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Newsline - June 23, 2006

The Russian Foreign Ministry told North Korean Ambassador to Russia Pak Ui Chun on June 22 that any moves that might upset regional stability in Northeast Asia are undesirable, Interfax reported. The news agency noted that Pak was summoned to the ministry and "informed of the Russian position on reports alleging that North Korea is planning to test a long-range ballistic missile. He was told that moves that can have a negative effect on regional stability and complicate the search for ways of settling the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula would be undesirable." Speaking in Minsk the same day, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that "we have no sure date on North Korean plans to launch a ballistic missile." He noted that Pyongyang is not a signatory to any arms-control agreement that would require it to inform others of its missile-launching plans. "Therefore, some states are concerned about the possible launch. I understand their concerns," Ivanov said. Recently, Igor Shuvalov, who is an aide to Putin and his chief planner for the upcoming St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries, was dismissive of foreign concern about the possible launch (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 22, 2006). PM

U.S. President George W. Bush and EU leaders issued a joint statement at their summit in Vienna on June 21 in which they stressed the importance of relations with Russia while expressing strong misgivings over some of its policies, international media reported. "We attach great importance to our relationship with Russia and are pursuing deeper cooperation on a range of issues of common interest, including some important foreign policy issues, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism," the statement noted. The leaders added, however, that they are concerned about the state of civil liberties in Russia as well as about President Vladimir Putin's stand on several international issues, including Iran's nuclear project, relations with Hamas, and support for the Belarusian leadership. PM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in Moscow on June 22 that Russia is not willing to discuss the so-called "frozen conflicts" in former Soviet republics at meetings of the G8 industrialized countries, Interfax reported. "We are ready to discuss any topical international issues with the partners. There are no forbidden issues for us," he said, referring to the willingness of some Western leaders to discuss South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transdniester, and Russian-Georgian relations at the upcoming G8 foreign-ministerial meeting in Moscow or at the St. Petersburg summit in July. He added, however that "it would be reasonable to limit the G8 agenda to issues where accord is possible and real assistance can be given.... The G8 political agenda is so full that it should hardly be burdened with the settlement of particular conflicts, which is the concern of special international agencies experienced in such areas.... Sustainable progress within the framework of the existent settlement mechanisms, in particular those of the Georgia-Ossetia and Georgia-Abkhazia conflicts, and the emphasis on confidence-building measures, the social and economic rehabilitation of conflict zones, and the return of refugees and temporarily displaced persons would meet our common interests best." PM

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in Moscow on June 22 that recent statements by Ukrainian Prime Minister-designate Yuliya Tymoshenko about reconsidering Ukraine's gas agreements with Russia are "threats that could lead to a new gas crisis," RIA Novosti reported (see Part 2, below). He added that "we believe that [her] words again prove that Ukraine is regrettably the weak link in the chain of Russia's gas supplies to Europe." He called Tymoshenko's remarks "a new alarm bell ringing for Europe." Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who heads the stockholders' oversight body for the planned North European Gas Pipeline running from Vyborg to Greifswald, expressed similar views about Ukraine in Moscow on June 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). PM

A spokesman for the state-run monopoly Gazprom said in Moscow on June 22 that the company has bought Pennine Natural Gas Limited in order to "expand into direct sales to commercial and industrial consumers in the United Kingdom," RIA Novosti reported. Gazprom has recently concluded deals on virtually a daily basis with European companies in an effort to enter their markets directly without ratifying the EU's Energy Charter, which it signed in 1994. There was opposition in the United Kingdom recently to the possible Russian acquisition of Centrica, the largest U.K. gas distributor. Gazprom has since improved its access to the U.K. market through a deal with a Danish firm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, and June 20, 21, and 22, 2006). PM

President Putin issued a decree on June 23 naming former Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov as justice minister, Interfax reported. Former Justice Minister Yury Chaika recently replaced Ustinov as prosecutor-general in what amounts to an exchange of posts between the two men. Since Ustinov's unexpected ouster on June 2, the media have been full of speculation as to what his replacement might mean for Russian politics in general and in particular for the succession to Putin when his current term runs out in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). Also on June 23, Chaika promised a thorough reshuffle of the Prosecutor-General's Office. PM

The Federation Council voted on June 23 to deprive Levon Chakhmakhchyan, who represents Kalmykia in that body, of his rights and powers as a senator, reported. Kalmykia's parliament recently revoked his mandate after Federal Security Service (FSB) agents allegedly caught him accepting $300,000 in extorted money in a sting operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2006). Chakhmakhchyan, who is in a hospital, denies any wrongdoing and is awaiting a Supreme Court verdict on possible criminal activities on his part. President Putin recently attacked corruption in high places, and there have since been several high-placed dismissals or sackings (see "RFE/RL Newsline, November 30, 2004, and May 10 and June 2 and 6, 2006). Critics argue, however, that the entire system is thoroughly corrupt and that the campaign has tended to target individuals who have run afoul of Putin and the Kremlin politically, particularly in the regions. PM

Police in Moldova arrested 22-year-old Igor Velchev, an ethnic Bulgarian citizen of Moldova, on June 23 in connection with the February Moscow killing of Ilya Zimin, an investigative reporter with the news channel NTV, reported. The Moldovan police have informed their Moscow colleagues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28 and March 6, 2006). PM

The parliament of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic confirmed Andrei Yarin on June 22 as the republic's new prime minister with 94 votes in favor, two against, and one abstention,, reported. President Arsen Kanokov proposed Yarin's candidacy on June 19 following the resignation of Gennady Gubin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2006). Addressing legislators on June 22, Yarin singled out as his top priorities increasing tax collection, strengthening control over state property, and encouraging private business, RIA Novosti reported. He said he will select members of his cabinet on the basis of their professionalism and willingness to learn and adapt to new circumstances. Kanokov for his part stressed Yarin's experience as an administrator, his intelligence, and his "high degree of organization." He denied that Yarin's candidacy was imposed by Moscow, saying that he personally asked for Yarin's release from his post on the staff of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. LF

Meanwhile, an opinion poll undertaken by sociologists from the Kabardino-Balkar State University has revealed overwhelming approval for Kanokov's achievements since his appointment as president nine months ago, reported on June 22. Of an unspecified number of people polled in Nalchik, 36.9 percent assessed Kanokov's performance as satisfactory, 32.8 percent as good, and 9.8 percent as excellent. At the same time, 42.9 percent said nothing has changed since his appointment, while 36.7 percent said the situation has improved. But only 12.2 percent believed he will definitely be able to bring about a further improvement, with a further 41.5 percent predicting he is more likely to succeed in doing so than not. LF

The resistance website posted on June 23 a statement by veteran field commander Doku Umarov, who in his capacity as vice president automatically succeeded Abdal-Khalim Sadulayev following the latter's death in a shoot-out with Russian forces on June 17 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). Umarov paid tribute to his slain predecessor as "one of the most worthy sons of the Chechen people," who, despite his comparative youth, "was our wise mentor in religious, political, and military matters." Umarov said his vision of how the ongoing war should end is for "Russia to leave us in peace, having recognized our legal right to self-determination." " not think that the Chechens are less worthy than other peoples of living in their own independent state," Umarov said, adding that "from the legal standpoint the Chechen Republic Ichkeria [ChRI] is an independent state." LF

In the same address, Umarov then warned that a special unit is currently being formed composed of the most experienced fighters from all six fronts, and that it will "liquidate" those he termed "the most odious traitors," on whom the ChRI shariat court has already passed the death sentence, presumably meaning members of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration. He said that "the best sons of all the North Caucasus peoples have risen up against colonial dependence" and that they coordinate their military activities. Umarov further warned that "this summer we intend to complete preparations to broaden significantly the zone of military activities to encompass not only the North Caucasus but many regions of Russia." At the same time, he stressed that the resistance will target only military and police facilities but not civilians, except for those engaged in "subversive activities against us." Umarov said there will be no changes in the current composition of the ChRI government either within Chechnya or abroad. This means that radical field commander Shamil Basayev, as anticipated, retains his post as first deputy prime minister (see "Chechnya: A Look At Slain Leader's Legacy And Successor,", June 21, 2006). He said that he will propose a candidate for the post of vice president to the State Defense Council "in the very near future." LF

Armenia's National Security Service (AATs), the successor organization to the Soviet-era KGB, published a response on June 22 to an open letter by Aram Karapetian, leader of the pro-Russian Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party, printed two days earlier in two Yerevan newspapers, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Karapetian claimed in his open letter that the AATs is investigating his presumed cooperation with an unnamed foreign intelligence service. The AATs response branded Karapetian an "adventure-seeking revolutionary" but did not clarify whether he is indeed under investigation. Instead, it construed his open letter as an offer of collaboration, which it publicly rejected. AATs personnel stopped Karapetian's car in April and detained six of his bodyguards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24 and May 2, 2006). One month later, he was searched, together with his baggage, in the VIP lounge at Yerevan's Zvartnots airport while waiting for a flight to Moscow, Noyan Tapan reported on May 24. LF

Sedrak Zatikian, a senior member of the Yerkrapah Union of Veterans of the Karabakh War, was gunned down after a car chase in central Yerevan on June 22, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A female passerby was killed by a stray bullet. The assailants escaped. Zatikian and his younger brother won notoriety in 2003 for their role in a mass shoot-out in Yerevan with relatives of another prominent Yerkrapah member, Hakob Hakobian. LF

Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini told a press conference in Tbilisi on June 22 to mark the end of her four-year term as special representative of the UN secretary-general for the Abkhaz conflict that "under the current circumstances, the presence of [Russian] peacekeepers and of the UN Observer Mission [in Georgia - UNOMIG] in the [Abkhaz] conflict zone is the sole deterrent to prevent the situation spiraling out of control," Caucasus Press reported. Also on June 22, UNOMIG Chief Military Observer Major General Niaz Muhammad Khan Khattak told the weekly meeting held in Chuburkhindji, western Georgia, of UNOMIG, Russian military, Georgian and Abkhaz representatives that UNOMIG is satisfied with the performance of the peacekeepers and with the unspecified additional measures they have taken to preserve stability in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian parliament is likely to vote in early July to demand the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal on the grounds that they do not fulfill their mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2005, and February 8 and 9 and June 22, 2006). LF

Vano Merabishvili and Mikhail Mindzayev met in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, on June 22 to discuss the situation in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. Merabishvili refused to sign a protocol on cooperation between the Georgian and South Ossetian Interior ministries, saying the draft is "superficial" and should have included "concrete provisions on security guarantees." But Mindzayev told journalists that he and Merabishvili reached "understanding on some points," while Merabishvili said they reached a "gentlemen's agreement," according to Caucasus Press on June 23. Also on June 22, Caucasus Press cited the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi as formally denying a South Ossetian statement on June 19 claiming that the United States is training Georgian military personnel for an attack on South Ossetia, and that U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi John Tefft attended a May session of the Georgian National Security Council at which such an attack was discussed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). LF

Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairwoman of the opposition party Asaba, told on June 22 that the opposition "kurultai," or gathering, planned by party co-leader Azimbek Beknazarov for July 2 has been postponed until September. Otunbaeva said that Beknazarov's work on constitutional reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2006) necessitated the delay. Otunbaeva noted that Asaba and the opposition movement For Reforms will take part in the kurultai, which was to have been held in Jalalabad Province. Beknazarov decided to hold the gathering after an incident in which residents of Aksy were allegedly beaten by security officers when they broke into the presidential compound in an attempt to meet with President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). "We made a mistake when we entrusted the fate of the Kyrgyz people to Bakiev after the revolution of March 24," Beknazarov commented at the time, according to The news agency quoted Beknazarov as saying, "At this kurultai, the people should make a decision about the second stage of the revolution, which involves reforms the country cannot do without, and decide the fate of the current authorities." DK

Representatives of the opposition party Ata Meken, led by former parliamentary speaker and current deputy Omurbek Tekebaev, have collected 17,000 signatures supporting the impeachment of President Bakiev, reported on June 22. The signatures were collected in Jalalabad province. reported that representatives of the political parties Jany Kyrgyzstan and Erkindik alleged that "the collection of signatures was organized by opponents of the president and without legal grounds." DK

In a 22 June press release, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on foreign ambassadors in Ashgabat to try to secure the release of three members of a Turkmen rights group, RFE/RL reporter Ogulsapar Muradova, and the latter's three adult children. The seven were arrested on June 16-18 amid allegations by Turkmen officials that they were involved in an espionage plot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20 and 21, 2006). "These arrests are totally illegal," RSF commented. "We are horrified by the lack of respect for the rule of law in Turkmenistan, where the police arrest whomever they fancy. It has proved impossible to get more information about the conditions in which Ogulsapar Moradova, her three children and the three human rights activists are being held or about their state of health." In a statement on June 21, the Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned the arrests. DK

Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on June 22 that a draft constitution of the Belarus-Russian Union State is practically ready, apart from the most important provision regarding what body is to govern the common state, Belapan reported. Gryzlov was addressing a session of the Belarusian-Russian Parliamentary Assembly in Navapolatsk, northern Belarus. Gryzlov said he hopes that the union's constitution, known as the Constitutional Act, could be endorsed at the next meeting of the Belarus-Russia Union's Supreme State Council. The date of this meeting has not yet been set. The Belarus-Russia Union's Supreme State Council is made up of the presidents, prime ministers, and heads of both chambers of the parliaments of both countries. JM

Former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, who is currently held in custody in Zhodzina near Minsk, has refused to eat jail food, Belapan reported on June 22, quoting Kazulin's lawyer. Kazulin's decision reportedly follows the jail administration's rejection of his request for dietary meals. Earlier this week, prosecutors referred Kazulin's case to a district court in Minsk. Kazulin, 50, has been held in Zhodzina since March 25. Prosecutors accuse him of organizing group actions that disturbed public peace and of two counts of hooliganism. The former charge relates to an opposition rally in Minsk on March 25, during which Kazulin called on demonstrators to march toward a detention center where the authorities were holding several hundred antigovernment protesters following the flawed presidential election on March 19. The hooliganism charge originates from an incident that occurred on February 17, when Kazulin elbowed his way into the National Press Center to hold a news conference there as a newly registered presidential candidate, and from his attempt on March 2 to register for the government-organized All-Belarusian People's Assembly. Kazulin was severely beaten by police on March 2. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on June 23 met with leaders of the newly created coalition comprising the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party to exchange opinions on the formation of parliamentary leadership and a new cabinet, UNIAN reported. Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus leader Roman Bezsmertnyy told journalists after the meeting that his party will decide on a candidate for the post of Verkhovna Rada speaker on June 26. He added that Petro Poroshenko and Anatoliy Kinakh are among the potential candidates. According to a distribution of government posts published by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on June 22, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc will obtain the posts of prime minister and first deputy parliamentary speaker as well as nine ministerial portfolios, while Our Ukraine will be offered the posts of parliamentary speaker and deputy prime minister as well as five ministerial portfolios. After announcing the recreation of the Orange Revolution coalition in the Verkhovna Rada on June 22, the three parties voted to adjourn the parliamentary session until June 27, when they are expected to come up with a list of preferred candidates for top government jobs. JM

Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is expected to return to post of prime minister in a freshly forged ruling coalition of her bloc with Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party, said on June 22 that the issue of gas supplies to Ukraine must be thoroughly revised, Ukrainian and international media reported. "All the relations on gas supplies to Ukraine now require further deep revision and review. And, of course, we must build new agreements on a friendly basis with the Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan," Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv, shortly after the parliamentary session where she announced the restoration of the 2004 Orange Revolution coalition. In early January, Russia's Gazprom increased the price of gas supplied to Ukraine from $50 to $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. Revision of this deal was a major issue in Tymoshenko's campaign for the March 26 parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Gazprom reacted to Tymoshenko's statement by saying that it opens the way for "a new gas crisis," according to Interfax (see Russia section). JM

Serbia and Montenegro officially established diplomatic relations with each other on June 22, AFP reported the same day. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic and his Montenegrin counterpart Miodrag Vlahovic signed a protocol establishing diplomatic ties between the two republics. "Political parties, decisions... everything is temporary, but special relations between Serbia and Montenegro are not," Draskovic said. "Nothing must cast a shadow over what Serbs and Montenegrins always have meant to each other." Vlahovic said Serbia and Montenegro "are together again in a capacity that enables them to be equal." He added that "Montenegro has not fulfilled its independence to build a fence around itself or to raise up barriers, but on the contrary, to cooperate." BW

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) admitted Montenegro on June 22 as its 56th member, dpa reported the same day. Outside and inside the OSCE headquarters in the Vienna Hofburg Palace, the flag of Serbia and Montenegro union was removed and replaced by the newly independent republics' two separate flags. Vesko Garcevic, who was Serbia and Montenegro's OSCE ambassador prior to the split, formally assumed his new role as Montenegrin ambassador. Garcevic said the "restoration of sovereignty" for Montenegro was calm, democratic, and in accordance with international standards. He also vowed that Montenegro will be a constructive and active participant in the OSCE. BW

The UN Security Council unanimously recommended on June 22 that Montenegro be admitted as the 192nd member of the United Nations, international news agencies reported the same day. The council adopted the resolution by consensus, without holding a vote. "The council notes with great satisfaction the Republic of Montenegro's solemn commitment to uphold the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and to fulfill all obligations contained therein," Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller of Denmark, which holds the Security Council presidency this month, said. "We look forward to the Republic of Montenegro joining us as a member of the United Nations and to working closely with its representatives." The council's resolution will be passed on to the UN General Assembly, which is expected to approve it by consensus on June 28, AP reported, citing diplomatic sources. BW

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic has said that Belgrade wants German intelligence agents to assist in the hunt for war crimes fugitives Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, AFP reported on June 22. Draskovic told the newspaper "Chemnitzer Freie Presse" that Belgrade considers Germany's BND intelligence service to be highly efficient, and said Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica hopes to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the matter. The EU suspended talks with Serbia on a Stabilization and Association Agreement in early May over Belgrade's failure to capture Mladic. BW

U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Michael Polt on June 22 rejected Prime Minister Kostunica's allegations that the West is putting undue pressure on Belgrade, AFP reported the same day. "Some in this country have recently argued for a so-called 'true partnership' with the Euro-Atlantic community, 'without conditions and pressures,'" he said, referring to Kostunica's statement on June 18. "I am concerned that such comments indeed suggest a misunderstanding of the Euro-Atlantic 'partnership.' This partnership cannot rely on one side delivering and the other side just promising to do so," Polt was quoted on the U.S. Embassy's website as saying. Kostunica attacked the EU on June 18, saying its policy toward Serbia is "deeply wrong" and has "produced exclusively negative effects" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). BW

EU officials on June 22 urged the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina to quickly reform its unwieldy public administration as a condition to forging closer ties with the union, AFP reported the same day. "Public administration reform is intrinsically linked to Bosnia-Herzegovina's European aspirations," the head of the EU Enlargement Commission's Western Balkans office, Reinhardt Priebe, said. Speaking in Sarajevo at a presentation of a reform strategy aimed at making Bosnia's public institutions more efficient and transparent, Priebe said it "is not enough" that Bosnian officials are committed to a strategy. "Only a quick adoption and, ultimately, implementation" of the strategy would be "clear indication that [the country] is prepared to take full responsibility in the modernization and reform of its public administration." BW

President Vladimir Voronin said on June 22 that Moldova and NATO are planning several joint exercises within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Following a meeting with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo, Voronin said the exercises includes the joint training of soldiers and officers. "We have already carried out joint work in that direction, owing to which the Moldovan military has become one of the best specialists in Europe in clearing land mines," he said. Voronin said that Chisinau's immediate goal is not NATO membership, but simply expanding the scope of cooperation with the alliance. BW

Denmark's Soren Jessen-Petersen leaves Kosova as head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) at the end of June. His successor is likely to be the last person in that post before the international community and Kosovar leaders agree on the details of how Kosova will move toward independence.

Jessen-Petersen will probably be remembered by most Kosovar Albanians as the best leader of UNMIK during the transition from Serbian rule, which effectively ended with the departure of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in June 1999, and the declaration of Kosova's independence, the circumstances of which are likely to be clear before the end of 2006. The international community has made it clear that Belgrade will not have a veto over Kosova's future. Most commentators agree that Jessen-Petersen's successor will be the last person to head UNMIK, which has long since begun to hand over some of its functions to officials of the elected Kosovar government.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Jessen-Petersen did his homework relating to his job and did not consider himself bound to steer a middle course in every controversy that came along. It was during his term in office that the United Nations and the major international powers -- whether they said so in public or not -- came to accept that "political limbo" could not be continued indefinitely because it would compound the fears and frustrations of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority and possibly lead to more violence like that which shook the province in March 2004. He also recognized that the only way forward was to move toward independence, albeit with strong guarantees for the Serbs and other minorities.

His unambiguous views and his reputed closeness to some ethnic Albanian political leaders, such as Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), prompted some Serbian politicians to call for his resignation, but such tactics only served to underscore the weakness of the Serbian position. The local Serbs, whose future will ultimately lie with their Albanian neighbors in an independent state, by and large boycott Kosova's growing institutions of self-government at the behest of Belgrade and thereby miss out on the opportunity to put their mark on the new state from the beginning.

The Belgrade politicians, who have expected to face early elections for well over a year, are reluctant to say or do anything that voters might interpret as showing "weakness" regarding Kosova. They thus waste time and energy over Kosova, which some of them privately admit is "lost" anyway, that could be put to use in dealing with Serbia's real problems, which are crime, poverty, corruption, and a democracy deficit. Some observers go one step further and suggest that the politicians deliberately draw voters' attention to the Kosova issue in order to divert their gaze away from those same politicians' poor track record in improving the daily lot of ordinary Serbs.

On June 20, Jessen-Petersen submitted his final report to the UN Security Council. He made it clear that the elected Kosovar institutions have made good progress toward implementing the international community's standards, particularly since Prime Minister Agim Ceku was nominated in March. Jessen-Petersen noted that many members of the Serbian minority have cause for complaint, but added that he hopes that their problems will be dealt with quickly. He also stressed that the Serbs should not consider themselves victims of deliberate oppression, and he repeated his call for them to take part in public life. He warned of the dangers inherent in the prolongation of the unclear political status, which, he argued, must be settled in keeping with the wishes of the majority while respecting the rights of the minority.

It will be incumbent on the ethnic Albanians to offer the Serbs fair treatment under the rule of law. If the Albanians fail to do so, they can expect difficulties with the international community. But the violent incidents that take place from time to time seem sporadic rather than planned, may be rooted in personal or criminal rather than in ethnic disputes, and could be, at least in some cases, engineered by Serbian extremists in order to maintain tensions and discredit the Kosovar government.

There are, however, few observers who expect many of the Serbian refugees and displaced persons to return to their old homes. While their numbers are uncertain, figures of around 235,000 often surface in the media, but Kosovar officials claim that the real number is lower.

The root of the problem is that the Albanians tend to distrust local Serbs in general because of the active role that many of them played in bringing Milosevic to power in the second half of the 1980s and in keeping him there. Perhaps more important, most Albanians believe that Milosevic's repressive campaign of 1998-99, which culminated in the "ethnic cleansing" of the Albanians in the spring of 1999, could not have been carried out without the active participation of local Serbs, both as combatants and as providers of "human intelligence" about their neighbors. Some German Balkan experts have drawn parallels with the Czech attitude at the end of World War II toward the Sudeten Germans, whom the Czechs regarded as an incorrigible Fifth Column, even though Kosovar officials are at pains to stress that local Serbs will enjoy full protection of the law.

The local Serbs, for their part, remain fearful. Violent incidents against Serbs have contributed to this tense climate, particularly when those killed or injured are the very young or very old. It should be recalled that in launching his wars in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, Milosevic was able to exploit the fears of local Serbs there who refused to accept that they might possibly live safely and peacefully as a minority in a state in which others constituted the majority. The Serbs of Kosova today are no less worried than were the Serbs of Krajina in 1990, even if they are not seriously planning to arm themselves or expecting military help from Belgrade. Meanwhile, most local Serbian politicians have displayed more skill in criticizing and complaining that in providing leadership or offering constructive programs.

As Jessen-Petersen's mandate comes to its end, Kosova moves toward a clarification of its final status. Most international commentators point out that anything short of independence, however qualified, is simply unrealistic. As Montenegro celebrates its newly won statehood, and Serbia finds itself in growing international disrepute over its failure to arrest and extradite former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic, Kosova's independence probably seems even more realistic that it did at the start of 2006.

Speaking in Kabul on June 22, President Hamid Karzai urged the international community to "reassess the manner in which the war on terror is conducted," RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "We are concerned about the [security] situation, [and] about the intensity of attacks on our country, and we know some of the factors behind it," Karzai said. "Our internal weakness is one of the factors, but most of it is due to outside factors and terrorism." The past three weeks have seen "five [or] six hundred people" killed in Afghanistan, he added. "I did predict and expect a rise in militant activity in Afghanistan, and I have [been raising] my concerns with the international community for two years in this regard," Karzai said. He added that the international community needs to strategically engage in disarming the terrorists by stopping "their sources of money, training, equipment, and motivation," AFP reported on June 22. AT

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Karzai administration in a statement released on June 22 to "immediately revoke a recently promulgated directive restricting the freedom of the press." A number of media executives and editors recently received a list of restrictions from Afghanistan's National Security Directorate (NSD) on issues to be avoided or reported on in a specific way (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 21 and 22, 2006). The NSD's "restrictions are a blatant intrusion on the freedom of Afghanistan's fledgling media," Sam Zarifi, research director of HRW's Asia Division, said. According to the statement, Afghan journalists have told HRW that the NSD directive was a form of intimidation and would have a chilling effect on reporting the news. AT

While pledging to protect the freedom of the press, President Karzai said in Kabul on June 22 that some of the country's media are "almost legitimizing some acts of terrorism," AFP reported. He singled out the electronic media in particular. Karzai added that the recent NSD directive reflects that "concern" and "tries to correct" it. Sayyed Makhdum Rahin, Karzai's embattled culture and youth minister, said the NSD document has no legal bearing, adding that journalists "should not be concerned," the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on June 22. Rahin's nomination was rejected by the Afghan National Assembly in April, but he has continued to lead his ministry on an interim basis. Rahin said that freedom of the media has been an important achievement of post-Taliban Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 28, 2006). AT

Four U.S. soldiers have been killed and one injured in clashes with "insurgents" in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan Province, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on June 22, quoting press officials of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The soldiers were taking part in the ongoing military operation, codenamed Mountain Lion, which was launched in Nuristan and neighboring Konar Province in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2006). Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak for the Taliban, said two members of the movement were killed in the operation, Reuters reported on June 22. AT

The item "Pakistani President Says Mullah Omar Has 'Reorganized Taliban' From Afghan Hideout" from June 22 should have stated that Pervez Musharraf said he believes that Afghanistan is headed "in the right direction."

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said on June 22 that Iran should make a decision soon on the international nuclear proposal it received earlier in the month, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2006). The offer purportedly calls on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for various incentives until international inspectors confirm that the country's nuclear program has no military applications. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on June 21 that Iran will make a decision by August 22. "In our minds, it's a question of weeks, not months," Mattei said. "The offer from the six [China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States] to Iran is a good proposal. We urge Iran to give a positive reply." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed a similar view on June 22, Xinhua reported. "We hope Iran would be highly attentive to the concerns of the international community, take a positive attitude, and make a formal response to the package proposal at an early date," she said. Jiang also called for the other parties to be patient. BS

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki in Geneva on June 22 and said at a joint news conference afterward that he hopes Iran decides on the international proposal soon, Radio Farda reported. "I believe [Iran] is considering this offer very seriously, as I have urged it to do, and I hope it will give its official answer before too long," Annan said. He noted Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, and he stressed the importance of convincing other countries of this by cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IRNA quoted Mottaki as saying at the same news conference that Tehran is studying the proposal closely and would welcome talks about it "without preconditions." BS

Iranian Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad and Foreign Minister Mottaki addressed the newly established UN Human Rights Council at its June 22 meeting in Geneva, IRNA reported. Karimirad complained that UN human rights rapporteurs gave factually incorrect and politically motivated reports on the countries they visited. He said he hopes that major powers do not interfere in the activities of the new council. Karimirad said he discussed cooperation with his counterparts from other countries including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Mottaki told the audience that cultural and religious diversity threaten human rights, IRNA reported. He added that the dominance of great powers undermines the legitimacy of UN human rights organs. Mottaki complained of alleged "mass killings" that the "Great Powers" either support or commit directly, citing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison as examples. BS

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on June 21 condemned the presence of Tehran Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi in the Iranian delegation to the UN Human Rights Council. A former press-court judge, Mortazavi has ordered the closure of upward of 100 publications and is implicated in numerous cases of torture, illegal detention, and coercion of false confessions, according to the media watchdog. Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi died in Evin prison in June 2003 while in the custody of personnel led by Mortazavi; her body allegedly showed signs of torture. The deputy director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, Joe Stork, described Mortazavi as "the poster child for rampant impunity in Iran." BS

General George Casey, the commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters at a June 22 press briefing at the Pentagon that the Iranian Qods Force is providing weapons, improvised-explosive-device-technology, and training to Shi'ite extremist groups in Iraq, international media reported. Casey said some of the training is being carried out in Iran, and probably in Lebanon as well. He said there is no evidence, however, that there Iranians in Iraq actually direct attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians, saying the Iranians "are providing the material to Shi'a extremist groups that operate as their surrogates." Casey said there has been a marked increase since January in the number of attacks using "explosively formed projectiles," which are manufactured in Iran, but he declined to quantify the increase. Asked whether the weapons are flowing to the Badr Brigades, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, or both, he said Iran supports "not all of the groups, but a wide variety of groups across southern Iraq." KR

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed at the same press briefing reports that hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types have been found in Iraq that contain sarin or at one time had sarin in them. Declassified excerpts of an April report by the U.S. Army's National Ground Intelligence Center said that some 500 weapons containing "degraded" mustard or sarin gas, all manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, have been found scattered in small caches throughout Iraq since 2003. Rumsfeld noted the importance of finding and destroying the weapons. "They are dangerous, and anyone...would be concerned if they got in the wrong hands," he said. "They are weapons of mass destruction [WMD]. They're harmful to human beings." He added that Saddam Hussein did not report the weapons in question to UN weapons inspectors in the lead-up to the war, and Hussein "inaccurately alleged that he had reported all of his weapons." Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials have pointed out that the April report supports the conclusion by the Iraq Survey Group, which said in 2004 that Hussein stopped WMD production after 1991, Reuters reported on June 22. The group also predicted that caches of pre-1991 weapons will continue to turn up across the country. KR

The Iraqi government announced a curfew in Baghdad on June 23, international media reported. The curfew will be in effect from 2 p.m. until 6 a.m., Reuters reported. According to the news agency, no reason was given for the curfew. Meanwhile, AP quoted members of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office as saying that a state of emergency has been declared in Baghdad. National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i denied this, telling Reuters, "It is only a curfew." The capital has been under a security clampdown under Operation Together Forward for more than a week. KR

Parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani has reportedly asked U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to open an investigation into the alleged killing of 15 farmers in a village north of Ba'qubah by U.S. forces, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on June 22. The news channel cited a June 20 press release by U.S. forces that said some 15 gunmen were killed in raids aimed at tracking Al-Qaeda fighters. A resident of the village has claimed that all of the dead were farmers, not insurgents. KR