Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - August 21, 2006

About 100 Muscovites, most of them 40 years old or older, gathered on August 20 to mark the 15th anniversary of the defeat of a coup led by Communist hard-liners against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from August 18-21, 1991, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 2006). The demonstration was organized by the liberal opposition Yabloko party. Yabloko member Sergei Mitrokhin, a Moscow City Duma deputy, called for a revival of the democratic values associated with the demise of the coup. On August 21, about 20 members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), which is also an opposition liberal group, and relatives of Ilya Krichevsky, Vladimir Usov, and Dmitry Komar, who were killed during the coup attempt, laid wreaths at the victims' graves at Vagankovskoye Cemetery, Interfax reported. "We view those events as the emergence of a new and democratic Russia, and this is why we are here today," SPS leader Nikita Belykh told the news agency. Although the coup was crushed, it also marked the beginning of the end for Gorbachev and the triumph of Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, who presided over the breakup of the Soviet Union later that year. PM

Several polls published in conjunction with the 15th anniversary suggest that the respondents have mixed feelings about the coup, RIA Novosti reported on August 19. One survey by the Levada Center recorded 39 percent of respondents as arguing that the coup reflected only a power struggle within the elite, 36 percent as saying that the loss of life made it a tragic event, and 13 percent as calling it the triumph of a democratic revolution, Ekho Moskvy radio reported on August 19. A poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) indicated that 66 percent of Russians regret the collapse of the Soviet Union and 57 percent feel that its demise could have been prevented, the state-run daily newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" noted on August 19. That same day, reported 49 percent of respondents as saying that they experienced the events of 15 years ago as "close to my heart," while 21 percent said that they felt "no special emotions" then. Some 24 percent said they are too young to know. PM

Former Soviet President Gorbachev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that he agrees with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," reported on August 18. He argued that "things certainly needed to change, but we did not need to destroy that which had been built by previous generations." He charged nonetheless that the hard-liners who staged the August 1991 coup came from the "reactionary nomenklatura" and were determined to reverse a healthy reform process that was well under way. Gorbachev believes that they chose to stage a coup rather than fight an open political battle because they knew that "nobody wanted a return to Stalinism." Asked why his perestroika remains more popular abroad than in Russia, Gorbachev replied that Europe liked it because it ended the confrontation of the Cold War. For the former Soviet republics, it ultimately led to their independence. But Russians, under the leadership of his rival, President Yeltsin, after 1991 experienced "poverty..., corruption, mass theft..., and shock." Gorbachev believes that it is "therefore natural that people naturally looked back to the Soviet Union and the social guarantees that it offered. The guarantees were modest, but at least they were guarantees. Now, even though things are improving under Putin, I would still estimate that about 50 percent of our people live in poverty." PM

According to former Soviet President Gorbachev, any "stability that was offered by the Cold War was a false one," reported on August 18. He added that matters then "were tricky and dangerous. We in the Russian and U.S. governments knew better than anybody what the true situation was and what it could develop into, because we knew what point we were at in the arms race. We knew that the kind of technology that we were operating was powerful enough to put the fate of civilization in question should there be some sort of slip-up. We also knew that the arms race was leading to an unprecedented depletion of national resources." Referring to today's Russia, Gorbachev noted that "there are frequent accusations that democracy is being suppressed and that freedom of the press is being stifled. The truth is, most Russians disagree with this viewpoint.... When Putin first came to power, I think his first priority was keeping the country from falling apart, and this required certain measures that wouldn't exactly be referred to as textbook democracy.... [But] Russia has changed to such an extent [over the past 20 years] that going back is now impossible." Gorbachev believes nonetheless that "we need the people to participate in the changes that are being enacted in the country. Democracy needs to be effective. The law needs to be efficient. Thieves and corrupt officials should not feel safe. We need to follow the path of democracy toward a free, open, and prosperous country." PM

Air-force commander General Vladimir Mikhailov said near Moscow on August 18 that Russia must strengthen its defense capabilities because the global political situation is deteriorating, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, and May 11 and 12, 2006). He argued that "the objective of strengthening the country's security has become a priority because of the current situation in the world. The situation is constantly changing and remains complicated, unpredictable, and unstable." He noted that the United States is determined to maintain its position as the world's leader and that it and its unnamed allies seek to expand their military presence in regions where Russia traditionally has interests. He also pointed to NATO enlargement and the spread of Islamic extremism in Russia and near its borders. "In this situation, the [Russian] political and military leadership...believes military power remains a traditional means of achieving political goals," Mikhailov said, adding that Russia has "finally started a full-scale military development." He argued that the various branches of the military have shown improved combat readiness and fighting capabilities in recent exercises. PM

Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Masorin told Interfax in Moscow on August 21 that the fleet does not need the planned "Belgorod" multifunctional nuclear-powered submarine, which is similar to the ill-fated "Kursk," which sank in 2000. The admiral stressed that the navy does not have the money to finish work on outdated submarines, but will rather channel its resources into the newer "Severodvinsk." The Sevmash Plant based in Severodvinsk began work on the "Belgorod" in 1992. The project was suspended two years later, but reviewed again after the "Kursk" disaster. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said at a July 20 meeting in Severodvinsk that the "Belgorod" might be completed, but not for the Russian fleet. PM

On August 19, the Russian authorities turned over to a Japanese delegation on Kunashiri Island the body of Mitsuhiro Morita, a fisherman who was killed in an August 16 incident between Russian border patrol forces and the Japanese fishing vessel "Kisshin Maru No. 31" off the disputed Kurile Islands, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 17, and 18, 2006). Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akiko Yamanaka brought the body back to Hokkaido and told Japanese media that she met briefly with the rest of the crew while on Kunashiri. She added that she expects that all will be released soon except the captain, who is being charged with poaching and illegal entry into Russian waters. She noted that Russian officials were present during her conversations with the Japanese fishermen and that she did not have the opportunity to discuss the incident with the sailors. On August 19, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseyev told Japan's Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki in Moscow that Japan's demands for compensation for Morita's death are "inappropriate," Interfax reported. PM

Moscow prosecutor Yury Syomin said on August 21 that a "deliberately set" explosion involving between 1 and 1.2 kilograms of TNT killed at least eight people and injured more than 40 at Moscow's Cherkizovsky market that morning, reported. Police at the scene said they have distributed descriptions of two suspects based on photos taken by monitoring cameras and on eyewitness descriptions. The police declined to give reporters any details about the appearance of the suspects, adding that this information will be made available in due time. Criminal organizations involved in turf wars sometimes set off small explosive devices in commercial areas. Terrorist attacks in Russia tend to be on a larger scale. PM

The Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) reported on August 21 that the population fell by 348,700, or 0.24 percent, in the first half of 2006, Interfax reported. This leaves a total population of 142.4 million as of July 1. The UN has suggested that Russia's population could drop by more than a third by 2050. President Putin has recently spoken frequently and at length about what he calls the demographic crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, and July 20 and 24, 2006). PM

Akhmed Umarov, the elder brother of Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Doku Umarov, told journalists in Grozny on August 18 that he has surrendered voluntarily to the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities after spending over a year in hiding, reported the following day. Earlier on August 18, a spokesman for the pro-Moscow Chechen government announced that Doku Umarov turned himself in to Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov at the latter's residence in Gudermes, Russian media reported. Less than an hour later, a corrected report said that the man who surrendered was Umarov's younger brother. But the Chechen resistance website denied that Umarov has a younger brother. In an extensive interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service in April 2006, Doku Umarov said the Russian military apprehended his father and brother in 2005, that all his efforts to locate them have failed, and that he feared they were both dead. LF

In an undated appeal to Umarov and to Lyoma Saralyapov, chairman of the ChRI parliament elected in 1997 under then President Aslan Maskhadov, residents of Grozny, Argun, Gudermes, Urus-Martan, and Shali advocate proclaiming an amnesty for those Chechens currently employed by the pro-Moscow authorities who have not shed the blood of their fellow Chechens, reported on August 21. They noted that many young members of what they termed the "illegal armed formations" loyal to Kadyrov would, given the opportunity, join the ranks of the resistance. Kadyrov last month made a similar appeal to members of the resistance to lay down their arms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, 2006). LF

A group of between 10-15 unidentified militants attacked the homes of one present and one former police official in Alkhasty in Ingushetia's Sunzha Raion during the night of August 19-20, and reported. The two men were shot dead and their homes set on fire. LF

Ending months of speculation, parliament deputy Viktor Dallakian confirmed on August 19 his intention to quit the opposition Artarutiun parliament faction, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He declined to confirm rumors that he intends to join the Prosperous Armenia (BH) party established last year by influential oligarch Gagik Tsarukian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," January 20, 2006), but hinted that he will soon make public his future "political choice." Sources close to BH told RFE/RL that Dallakian aspires to a senior post within that party and hopes to become speaker of the Armenian parliament to be elected next spring. LF

The trial opened in Yerevan on August 18 of Arman Babadjanian, editor of the independent twice-weekly newspaper "Zhamanak Yerevan," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Babadjanian was arrested in June and charged with having illegally evaded compulsory military service four years earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and 28 and July 3 and 7, 2006). Prosecutors accuse Babadjanian of having stolen and forged copies of documentation belonging to the family of a former friend. Babadjanian admitted the forgery but said the family in question voluntarily lent him the documents in question. Babadjanian initially branded his arrest politically motivated and intended to silence a media outlet that advocates regime change. LF

Colonel General Ramil Usubov warned on August 18 at a press conference in Baku against taking at face value claims made by former ministry senior official Haci Mammadov, and reported. Mammadov, who is on trial on charges of having masterminded numerous high-profile murders and kidnappings (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 18, 2006), claimed last month to have arranged the murder in March 2005 of opposition journalist Elmar Huseynov at the behest of former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev. Usubov implied that Mammadov is "gambling" by implying that he could implicate further senior officials in his criminal activities. LF

The prime ministers of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Artur Rasi-zade and Zurab Noghaideli, attended a session in Batumi on August 17-18 of the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, Georgian media reported. Agreement was reached during the talks on the rescheduling of Georgia's $13.4 million debt to Azerbaijan, which will be repaid over a period of 14 years beginning in 2011, according to Caucasus Press on August 18. Noghaideli told journalists on August 17 that the two countries hope to increase bilateral trade turnover by 30-35 percent this year. But although the two prime ministers discussed Georgia's stated desire to purchase quantities of Azerbaijani natural gas at the knock-down price of $60-$80 per 1,000 cubic meters, no agreement was reached on any such sales, on August 17 quoted Rasi-zade as saying. The export via Georgia of natural gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field is due to begin later this year; under an existing agreement, Georgia will receive 5 percent of the volume of gas exported in transit fees. LF

A meeting in Moscow on August 17-18 of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone was adjourned until early September after the parties represented -- Georgia, Russia, North Ossetia, and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia -- failed to reach any agreement, Georgian and Russian media reported. According to South Ossetian representative Boris Chochiyev as cited by Interfax, Georgia insists on changing the negotiating format to reassign the key role from Russia -- which Georgia considers biased in favor of South Ossetia -- to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which South Ossetia similarly considers biased in favor of Georgia. On August 19, the Russian co-chairman of the JCC, Yury Popov, said that Georgia is reneging on its earlier agreement to form a working group subordinate to the JCC that would seek to coordinate and combine Georgian and South Ossetian draft peace proposals, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry website. Popov deplored the Georgian approach as "inconsistent and irrational." LF

Antonio Guterres traveled on August 19 to Sukhum (Sukhumi), capital of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, where he met with Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba and National Security Council Secretary Stanislav Lakoba to discuss the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgians who fled during the 1992-93 civil war, Georgian media reported. Shamba said that almost all those Georgians who wish to return to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion have already done so. He added that the Abkhaz leadership is not prepared to condone the return of Georgians to other districts of Abkhazia "in the foreseeable future." Shamba accused Tbilisi of creating artificial obstacles to the return of Georgians to Gali. Guterres also met on August 19 with Georgian displaced persons in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi, Caucasus Press reported. Describing their living conditions as "unbearable," Guterres pledged that his agency will do all it can to expedite their repatriation. On August 20, Guterres met in Tskhinvali with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity to discuss the return of Georgian displaced persons to South Ossetia. LF

The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office on August 19 brought charges of embezzlement of humanitarian aid against Nora Kvitsiani, against whose brother, former Kodori Gorge Governor Emzar Kvitsiani, Tbilisi launched a major police operation last month, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 27, 28, and 31, 2006). Nora Kvitsiani was arrested in the course of that operation and remanded for two months' pre-trial detention on charges of illegal possession of weapons and forming an illegal armed group, according to Caucasus Press on August 3. LF

Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Marat Tazhin, secretary of Kazakhstan's Security Council, Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev, and Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov in Astana on August 19, Kazinform reported. They discussed bilateral security cooperation with a particular focus on the joint threat-reduction program, which Lugar pioneered. Tazhin stressed that Kazakh-U.S. cooperation on this issue ensured the dismantling of a nuclear weapons infrastructure in Kazakhstan. Future cooperation is expected to focus on preventing the proliferation of biological weapons. DK

Environmental Protection Minister Nurlan Isakov has warned that the TengizChevrOil (TCO) joint venture could face the loss of its license if it fails to comply with environmental legislation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on August 18. "The procedure is very simple -- fines come first, then by a court decision we suspend a permission issued by us," Isakov explained. "After this, the fine increases tenfold. If this does not have an impact, the enterprise will be closed down by a court decision." Isakov said that his ministry is awaiting a reply from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry on complaints against TengizChevrOil. TengizChevrOil was fined $5.7 million earlier this year for violating environmental legislation, Interfax reported. TengizChevrOil is owned by ChevronTexaco Overseas (50 percent), ExxonMobil (25 percent), Kazakh national oil company KazMunaiGaz (20 percent), and the U.S-Russian joint venture LUKArco (5 percent). It is developing the Tengiz oil field, which contains up to 9 billion barrels of oil, according to Chevron's website. DK/LF

Rights activists in Osh say that Uzbek asylum seekers Valijon Bobojonov and Saidullo Shokirov have been returned to Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on August 19, quoting Cholpon Jakupova, chairwoman of the Adalet (Justice) rights organization. Jakupova said that the men are being held in Andijon, Uzbekistan. reported on August 18 that representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Osh confirmed that the two men disappeared after August 16-17. Kyrgyz officials were not available for immediate comment. Kyrgyzstan recently returned four Uzbek refugees and one asylum seeker to Uzbekistan, a move that triggerted widespread condemnation, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 2006). DK

Turkmenistan has raised excise taxes on imported beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages, Prime-TASS reported on August 18, citing official Turkmen media. In line with legislation signed by President Saparmurat Niyazov on August 17, the excise tax on imported beer has gone up from 10 percent to 50 percent. Excise taxes on imported wine and other alcoholic beverages have jumped from 15-20 percent to 100 percent. Excise taxes on domestic beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages have remained unchanged at, respectively, 10 percent, 15 percent, and 40 percent. DK

A Chinese delegation led by Deputy Prosecutor-General Hu Kehui visited Uzbekistan on August 17 for talks on boosting law-enforcement cooperation between the two countries, Uzbek television reported. "We should have more information about each other and jointly fight against separatism, terrorism, and religious extremism that are worrying the world community," Hu commented. After talks at the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office, she stressed that ties should be expanded between Chinese and Uzbek lawyers and between educational institutions in the two countries. DK

U.S.-based Newmont Mining announced on August 17 that an Uzbek court has declared its Zarafshan-Newmont joint venture bankrupt and appointed an administrator to oversee the facility's operations, MarketWatch reported. The court decision came in response to Uzbek government efforts to recover a $48 million claim in back taxes from the joint venture, in which Newmont holds a 50 percent stake. Newmont, which has described the proceedings as an "expropriation" attempt, has said that it plans to pursue international arbitration in the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 14, 2006). DK

The Polish Foreign Ministry on August 19 issued a protest against the arrest the previous day of Andrzej Poczobut and Mieczyslaw Jaskiewicz, two activists of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), which is not recognized by the Belarusian authorities, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The ministry described the Belarusian authorities' move as an "attempt to intimidate activists and prevent a meeting of the Main Council of the SPB from being held." SPB activist Andrzej Pisalnik told PAP that despite the arrest of Poczobut and Jaskiewicz as well as interrogations of several other activists, the Main Council of the SPB managed to hold its conference on August 19. Poczobut and Jaskiewicz are to be tried on August 21, reportedly on charges of petty hooliganism. JM

Nearly 6,000 people signed a complaint against the official outcome of the March 19 presidential election in Belarus, which has been recently filed with the Supreme Court by the Belarusian opposition, Belapan reported on August 18. "We demand a fresh election," independent trade unionist Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, who coordinated the signature collection campaign, told the agency. Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin, two opposition candidates who ran against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, appealed to the Supreme Court to invalidate the incumbent's victory shortly after the vote. The request was rejected on the ground that regulations currently in force ban contesting the Central Election Commission's decisions. According to the official results, Lukashenka on March 19 won 83 percent of the vote, while Milinkevich and Kazulin were supported by 6.1 percent and 2.2 percent of voters, respectively. JM

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, discussed "topical aspects of bilateral relations and issues concerning the formation of the Union State of Belarus and Russia" during their meeting in Sochi on August 19, Belapan reported, quoting the Kremlin press office. "We have something to talk about with regard to both the formation of the union state and economic matters and cooperation in the international arena," the press office quoted Putin as saying at the beginning of the meeting. Meanwhile, the Moscow-based "Zhizn" newspaper wrote on August 21 that Putin and Lukashenka agreed in Sochi to hold a referendum in November or December on the formation of a Belarusian-Russian Union State. JM

Speaking to a crowd of some 3,500 people at the World Forum of Ukrainians in Kyiv on August 18, President Viktor Yushchenko said the country's policy priorities remain the same despite the nomination earlier this month of his presidential rival from 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, as prime minister, Ukrainian media reported. "We should publicly reject the disease that has begun creeping into Ukrainian politics, which is called federalism.... This is not Ukraine's choice," Yushchenko noted. He also stressed that Ukrainian will remain the only official language in Ukraine. Speaking about the country's integration into the European Union and NATO, Yushchenko emphasized that it is an "irreversible course." "We are a great people. We are committed to the values of democracy, liberalism, and national progress. In the 21st century, we will stand as a united Ukrainian people, a consolidated and powerful community that is present in the life of the planet with its actions, its work, and genuine national success," Yushchenko said in conclusion. JM

A fire broke out at an artillery-ammunition depot near the village of Novobohdanivka in Zaporizhzhya Oblast on August 19, triggering a series of explosions and injuring four people, Ukrainian and international media reported. Some 1,500 civilians have been evacuated from around the village and some 4,000 others were sent temporarily to shelters. Explosions at the same depot in May 2004 continued for a week, killing five and injuring four people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 10, and 11, 2004). A small fire and a series of explosions in the depot occurred also in July 2005, injuring one person. JM

The Serbian government has dismissed Ninoslav Krstic as vice president of the coordinating body for southern Serbia after he said that he would help war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic escape capture if asked, B92 reported on August 19. "The international community asked the government to do so after Krstic told the media he too would shelter Mladic if the Hague fugitive were to knock on his door," the daily "Blic" quoted an unidentified government official as saying. "This was a test for the government, a chance to prove how it treats officials who protect Mladic," the official added. BW

Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on August 17 that the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) should evolve into a full-fledged national army, Hina reported the same day. Ceku added that he will be personally involved in talks about Kosova's security architecture at the UN-sponsored negotiations on the breakaway province's final status. Also on August 17, TMK commander Sulejman Selimi agreed with Ceku's call for Kosova to have an army, and said that military matters should be given greater prominence in the province's final-status negotiations. BW

Serbian leaders in Kosova, meanwhile, assailed Ceku's remarks and said a new army could destabilize the region, B92 reported on August 19. "Albanians doubtlessly wish to at long last transform both the [Kosova Liberation Army and the TMK] into an army, but I don't believe this wish of theirs will come true," Serbian List for Kosovo leader Oliver Ivanovic told B92. "Another army in the Balkans can create great tension and could be [a destabilizing] factor. If there is such an army, it won't be the only one in Kosovo, which means there will be no peace in the province for a long time," he added. Serbian President Boris Tadic also dismissed the idea of a Kosovar army, as did Science and Environment Minister Aleksandar Popovic. BW

Serbian List for Kosova leader Ivanovic also urged Belgrade officials to establish more contacts with Serbs in the province, B92 reported on August 20, citing an interview in the daily "Blic." Such contacts, Ivanovic said, would help Belgrade's negotiating team for Kosova's final status talks be more sensitive to the needs of Kosovar Serbs. "The team for negotiations should come down here, talk to people, and get a feel of our problems," Ivanovic said. He accused officials from Belgrade of focusing too much on status issues and not enough on decentralization. "They keep pushing the issue of status to the forefront and neglect matters concerning everyday life in the technical negotiations, although the latter are a foundation for the welfare of Serbs in Kosovo." BW

For years, northern Afghanistan has seen sporadic fighting between supporters of two long-time warlords, Abdul Rashid Dostum and General Abdul Malik. Now, though, the central government has indicated it has had enough, with Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel calling for the two men's political parties to be disbanded.

He argues that the two parties -- Dostum's National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Junbish-e-Melli-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan), known as Junbish, and Malik's Freedom Party of Afghanistan (Hizb-e Azadi-ye Afghanistan) -- continue to maintain military wings and that these militia are responsible for the unrest in the northern province of Faryab.

Afghan law prohibits political parties from maintaining militias, but in a country where many rogue armies are led -- officially or covertly -- by leaders of the country's 70-plus registered political parties Moqbal's move and the bluntness of his comments are unusual.

Warlords have been the bane of centralization efforts for decades. It is too early to say whether this move signals a new government willingness to tackle "warlordism," and curb the power of militias. But it is clear -- in Kabul and among the administration's backers in the international community -- that the current post-Taliban government must rein in warlords if it is to continue on the path toward democratization.

The venture could prove problematic for President Hamid Karzai's central government -- particularly if it is not scrupulously even-handed in applying the policy. The move to disband Dostum's and Malik's parties has created discontent among those two men's supporters. But the government stands to gain broader support on a national level if it applies the same standard to other militias -- and is not seen to be engaging in favoritism among warlords. Conversely, the recent suggestion by some government officials that militias could be co-opted in the southern and eastern parts of the country could undermine the strategy.

Interior Minister Moqbel cited recent armed clashes in the northern Faryab Province as the rationale for the ban. He suggested the Justice Ministry could act through the country's recently appointed Supreme Court, which, unlike its predecessor, is not linked to the warring parties of Afghanistan's past.

Dostum is a former communist militia commander who allied with the mujahedin to help them take control of Kabul in 1992. Dostum's military units and his Junbish party were major actors during the ensuing civil war. For most of the period between 1992 and 1996, Dostum controlled large swathes of northern Afghanistan and Malik served as his unofficial foreign minister.

But relations between Dostum and Malik deteriorated following the death of Malik's brother, General Rasul Pahlawn, in 1996. Mali's brother was Dostum's second in command, and was killed under mysterious circumstances. Malik blamed Dostum.

One year later, Malik gained notoriety briefly when he helped Taliban forces conquer the seat of Dostum's power, the city of Mazar-e Sharif. Malik soon turned on his Taliban allies and assumed personal control of Mazar-e Sharif and parts of northern Afghanistan.

But Malik's fortunes soon faded. Within months, by September 1997, the Taliban and their Pakistani backers were able to oust Malik.

Dostum, meanwhile, took his defeated Junbish forces and found new allies to fight the Taliban. Dostum soon joined forces with the United Islamic and National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (aka Northern Alliance) -- formed around under the military leadership of Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

Dostum played an active part in the U.S.-led campaign to oust the Taliban regime in late 2001. From 2002 to 2003, he officially held the post of deputy defense minister -- although he was rarely in Kabul. Instead, Dostum was busy fighting for supremacy in and around Mazar-e Sharif. His opponents included forces loyal to the current governor of Balkh Province, Ata Mohammad Nur.

In May 2003, the UN-backed central government sought to sideline Dostum. President Karzai named Dostum a "special adviser on security and military affairs," bringing him to Kabul in an apparent effort to dislodge him from his northern stronghold. Dostum's job was to advise the president and recommend ways to bring security to the northern provinces (Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, Samangan, Faryab).

But Dostum's forces continued to tangle with provincial Governor Nur's forces despite the presidential maneuvering. The situation escalated in early 2004, with General Malik's arrival in Faryab -- in the opinion of some observers with tacit support from Governor Nur. Dostum's forces maintained the upper hand, but Malik loyalists have issued occasional challenges.

Dostum has relinquished the formal leadership of his Junbish party, but most observers are convinced he maintains effective control.

Dostum and General Malik both insist that their political parties have no military wings. But each has repeatedly blamed the other for fomenting violence, including some 10 days of deadly fighting in early August.

Minister Moqbel's attempt to curtail Dostum's and Malik's political careers has little precedent in Afghanistan, so it is too early to assume the outcome. But the question on many Afghan minds if he succeeds is bound to be: Whose militia is next?

In one of the bloodiest battles in months, more than 70 suspected insurgents were killed on August 19 in clashes with Afghan National Army (ANA) forces supported by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, international news agencies reported the next day. According to district head Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, the clashes occurred when "hundreds of Taliban" launched an overnight attack on the district, Herat-based Sada-ye Jawan Radio reported on August 20. Sarhadi said that 72 insurgents and four ANA soldiers were killed in the fighting. A local police officer in Kandahar, wishing to remain anonymous, claimed that three policemen are missing in the wake of the clash. An unidentified spokesman for the Taliban said that only a dozen fighters were killed and eight sustained injuries. The Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed 60 Taliban and four ANA deaths, AFP reported on August 20. A website purporting to represent the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" -- the name of the country used during the rule of the Taliban -- in an August 20 posting reported the killing of 30 "enemy" soldiers in Panjwai in a "hard" battle lasting eight hours during which a "small number" of "mujahedin" -- the term which is increasingly being used by the Taliban to identify their members -- sustained injuries or were "martyred." AT

Six Afghan policemen and four Taliban insurgents were killed and three policemen and five insurgents injured when Taliban fighters attacked a border police patrol in Nimroz Province on August 19, AFP reported on August 20. The "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" website in an August 19 posting claimed that 10 "enemy" soldiers were killed in Nimroz and seven "mujahedin" were wounded. The Taliban regularly exaggerate successes and downplay their losses. NATO and coalition forces have almost no presence in sparsely populated Nimroz, which borders both Pakistan and Iran. AT

Insurgents killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded three others during an operation in the Pech district of Konar Province, AP reported on August 19. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Tom Collins said that U.S. forces were hunting for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in Konar when the clash occurred. Elsewhere, two soldiers -- one U.S. and the other an Afghan -- were killed in clashes with Taliban in Oruzgan Province, Kandahar TV reported on August 19. According to the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" website, in clashes that occurred in Deh Rawud district of Oruzgan on August 18, four U.S. soldiers were killed while the "mujahedin" did not sustain any casualties. AT

A British soldier died as a result of injuries sustained during fighting in the Sangin district in Helmand Province on August 20, a statement posted on the U.K. Ministry of Defense website indicated. Further information about the incident is due to be released soon. U.S. military spokesman Collins dismissed any links between the attacks over the weekend in southern, western, and northeastern Afghanistan at a news conference in Kabul on August 20, AFP reported. "There are these very local attacks that give the impression of an offensive, but we don't see any command and control at the upper echelons of the Taliban that suggest there is some kind of campaign to take over certain areas," Collins told reporters. AT

Coinciding with celebrations to mark Independence Day on August 19, a new private television channel called Lemar, ("The Sun" in Pashto) began experimental transmissions in Kabul, the Herat-based "Pagah" newspaper report on August 20. Lemar's manager, Mojahed Kakar, said the channel will initially broadcast four hours daily in Kabul but will soon broadcast programs "round-the-clock." Lemar is backed financially by Tolu Television. Once it is fully operational, Tolu viewers should also receive Lemar. With Lemar, Kabul now has six private television stations -- Afghan Television, Aina, Ariana, Shamshad, and Tolu -- in addition to the state-run Afghan National Television. AT

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said during his weekly news conference on August 20 that Tehran has completed its assessment of the proposal it received from EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana in early June and will respond in two days, Radio Farda and IRNA reported. The international proposal calls for Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for a number of incentives, and it also mentions a series of sanctions if Tehran refuses to cooperate. Some parts of the proposal are "acceptable," Assefi said, while there are questions about other parts. Assefi emphasized that Iran will continue its enrichment activities, Radio Farda reported. "The issue of suspension is a return to the past. We are not going to suspend [uranium-enrichment activities]," Assefi said. "The suspension of uranium enrichment [activities] is not on our agenda." BS

The Zarbat-i Zolfaqar war games began on August 19 in Iran and are scheduled to take place in 16 provinces in the south, southwest, and west, RFE/RL and other news agencies reported. The exercises could last up to five weeks, Military Chief of Staff Brigadier General Musavi told state television on August 17. General Alireza Afshar, deputy commander for cultural affairs and defense propaganda at the general headquarters of the armed forces, said on August 17 that "the reason for conducting these war games is to deter the enemy from daring to threaten or put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran," Fars News Agency reported. On August 20, spokesman Brigadier General Kiumars Heidari told IRNA that the 250-kilometer-range Saqeh surface-to-surface missile was tested successfully. BS

Speaking in Tehran on August 20, Lebanese Hizballah envoy Seyyed Abdallah Safi-al-Din said his organization will disarm only when the Lebanese government can guarantee that Israel will never attack Lebanon again, Mehr News Agency reported. "But, so far no such guarantees have been given," he added. Several UN Security Council resolutions call for the disarmament of all Lebanese militias. Safi-al-Din said the most recent UN resolution -- 1701 -- is "unjust." The resolution also requires that only the Lebanese Army and UN peacekeepers should be in southern Lebanon, but the Hizballah envoy dismissed this, saying, "The deployment of the Lebanese army in the south of the country will not prevent the presence of Hizballah in the south." Safi-al-Din went on to mention the objective of destroying Israel and said, "The Zionist regime is not a legitimate regime; its government did not come into being in normal ways." He said the justification for Israel's existence is its service as America's regional policeman, but its existence is no longer justified because Israel was defeated in its conflict with Hizballah. BS

Sheikh Nabil Qawuq, the Hizballah official in charge of the Southern Lebanon region, thanked Iran on August 18 for "supporting Lebanon's right to resist," Al-Manar television reported. Speaking at a funeral for two Hizballah combatants and 27 civilians in the village of Qana, he added, "We are proud that Iran stands by the Lebanese people who are defending their land." The same day in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said, "The Iranian government's cooperation with the Lebanese government and that country's resistance movement is quite transparent and in accordance with the international norms and relations among governments," IRNA reported. Assefi said Iranian support for Hizballah is "merely of humanitarian, spiritual, and political nature, and that movement is needless of other types of assistance." BS

The trial of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on charges of genocide against Iraqi Kurds will begin on August 21, international news agencies reported on August 20. Hussein and six co-defendants face charges for the Anfal campaign by the Iraqi army in 1987-88, which resulted in the killing of an estimated 100,000 Kurds and destruction of 3,000 villages. The verdict in the Al-Dujayl case, the first case brought against Hussein, is expected on October 16, and, if found guilty, he could face the death sentence. However, Hussein will still be tried for Anfal posthumously, according to a U.S. official who spoke to AFP on August 19 on condition of anonymity. "There are a lot of documents in this case that truly connect the defendants of this case to the actions of the Anfal -- very appalling evidence consisting of mass graves where people where taken out to the desert and executed," the U.S. official said. The defense will seek to prove the campaign was a legitimate anti-insurgency operation during Iraq's 1980-88 war with Iran, according to AFP. In an August 18 statement, Human Rights Watch voiced concern over the competence of the Iraqi court to undertake a genocide case, but Iraqi and U.S. officials have brushed off such comments, according to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on August 20. BAW

Kurdish prosecutor Kamal Uthman Khoshaw said that the Kurdish attorneys representing families of the Anfal victims have undeniable proof of Hussein's guilt. "Among the documents [that they unearthed] is a military one issued by the General Command of the Armed Forces, addressed to the general commander, and breaking the news that the operation with all its eight stages was over. The document names all the leaders and party members involved," AFP quoted him as saying on August 20. The Kurdish regional government on August 20 called on residents to stand in solemn silence for five minutes at 10 a.m. on August 21, when the trial starts, Peyamner reported the same day. Kurdish organizations have called on Kurds in the West to rally in front of Iraqi embassies in support of the trial, Voices of Iraq reported on August 20. "We have waited for the day to see him tried for his crime and that day is coming near," Mullah Omar Hasan, who lost a daughter in Anfal, told AFP on August 20. BAW

In Baghdad's Al-Kadhimiyah district, snipers targeted Shi'ite pilgrims commemorating the death of Imam Musa al-Kadhim, a Shi'ite holy figure, on August 20, Iraqi and Western news agencies reported the same day. Snipers hiding in nearby buildings and cemeteries shot at the crowd of pilgrims, killing 20 of them, and causing a panic that ended up injuring 304 more, AP reported on August 20, citing official Iraqi figures. "I was walking and someone got shot in front of me. It wasn't random fire, it was a clear sniper attack," an eyewitness told AP. Another told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on August 20 that he saw Iraqi security forces arrest one of the snipers. At the same event a year ago, mortar attacks caused a stampede over Al-A'imma Bridge across the Tigris River, causing the death of nearly 1,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 31 and September 1, 2005). In a statement on August 20, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "strongly condemned the criminal attacks carried out by terrorists...who tried to repeat the Al-A'imma Bridge tragedy," Voices of Iraq news agency reported the same day. Al-Maliki added that "the success of the Iraqi army and police in preventing terrorists from killing innocent civilians, despite some casualties, reflects the increasing capability of Iraqi armed forces." BAW

In a statement dated August 20, Prime Minister al-Maliki warned against using mosques and Friday sermons to incite sectarian violence, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The statement commemorated the death of 1,000 Shi'ite pilgrims on August 31, 2005, at the Al-A'imma Bridge in Baghdad. Al-Maliki called on clerics and scholars to keep away from sectarianism, and promote religious brotherhood and themes of national unity. He warned that legal action will be taken against anyone who incites sectarian tension. BAW

Ahmad al-Lawzi of Jordan presented his credentials to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on August 17, AP reported, citing an August 18 Iraqi presidential statement. Al-Lawzi, the first Arab ambassador in Iraq, arrived in Baghdad together with a Jordanian delegation headed by Prime Minister Ma'ruf al-Bakhit on August 15 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2006). Due to insecurity and concern over Shi'ite rule in Iraq, Arab states have been reluctant to maintain diplomatic relations with Baghdad at the ambassadorial level, despite calls from both the Iraqi and U.S. governments, according to AP. BAW