FISHY DEVELOPMENTS OVER SAKHALIN PROJECT...
The Russian government announced on September 18 that it has withdrawn environmental approval granted in 2003 for the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, in which Royal Dutch Shell holds a 55 percent stake with the rest divided between Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi, "The Wall Street Journal" and the "International Herald Tribune" reported on September 19. An official of the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) said that the project has already led to damage to salmon-bearing rivers and "excessive logging" along the pipeline route. Shell denies that it has violated Russian environmental laws. Russia is probably seeking to renegotiate the $20 billion deal to its advantage rather than block it altogether. Agreements with Shell and other Western oil giants were concluded at a time when oil prices were low and Russia sought foreign capital. Now that Russia is awash in petrodollars, the government is reportedly seeking to ease the foreigners out in favor of domestic, state-run firms like Gazprom and Rosneft. London's "Financial Times" wrote on May 25 that the Russian authorities are considering revising some existing oil and gas deals with foreign partners in order to further tighten Russian state control over energy resources. Those projects include Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, August 4, and September 6, and 18, 2006). PM
...BRING WARNINGS FROM TOKYO, BRUSSELS
Shinzo Abe, who is expected to become Japan's prime minister soon, told reporters in Tokyo on September 19 that his country's relations with Russia could be hurt by Moscow's latest moves regarding the Sakhalin-2 project, international media reported. He said that he understands that "Russia revoked approvals for the Sakhalin-2 project.... I am concerned that major delays might have a negative influence on overall Japanese-Russian relations." In Brussels, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that the EU takes the Russian decision "very seriously indeed" and called on Russia to provide clear reasons for it. He stressed that "in order to ensure that companies are willing to invest in multibillion-euro energy projects, a secure and predictable investment climate is necessary in Russia as in the EU or indeed any country. Without this, investment in new energy projects will be highly problematic, providing uncertainties for the world's future energy supply." Sakhalin and its surrounding waters are believed to contain more oil than remains available in the North Sea. The virtually untapped reserves on and around Sakhalin could have a significant impact on the energy markets of the fuel-hungry economies of the Far East. Sakhalin-2 is the world's largest combined project involving oil and natural gas. PM
LITHUANIAN, U.S. LEGISLATORS SLAM RUSSIAN 'ENERGY BLACKMAIL'
A press release from the Lithuanian parliament said on September 18 that U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert (Republican, Illinois) has warned Russia not to use energy as a political tool in the Baltics, dpa reported. Emanuelis Zingeris of the Lithuanian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee added that "Hastert came to Lithuania directly from St. Petersburg, where he discussed issues topical to Lithuania -- energy independence and the blackmailing of Lithuania." Zingeris also referred to the planned Russo-German North European Gas Pipeline as reflecting "negative processes in the EU, when a common strategy toward [Russia] is discussed over our heads." Russia recently shut off most oil supplies to Lithuania's Mazeikiu oil refinery, which is the only refinery in the Baltic states, because of alleged pipeline damage and suggested that the pipeline might never be reopened. In May, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney also warned Moscow from Vilnius against using energy supplies to pressure its neighbors. In July, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said that Russia is using energy policy as a form of "blackmail" against those who will not do Moscow's bidding politically. He added: "Those who control your energy supply control you politically. This is unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, July 12, and August 1 and 3, 2006). PM
PUTIN ASSURES HUNGARY OF OIL, GAS SUPPLIES...
President Vladimir Putin told Hungary's Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany in Sochi on September 18 that "Gazprom guarantees the necessary volume of supplies [of gas] to Hungarian consumers," RIA Novosti and the state-run "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1 and June 22, 2006). Putin spoke warmly about increasing Hungarian exports to Russia and the two countries' cooperation in the energy sector. He called for further "improvement in the structure of trade," focusing on fuel and energy. The two men also discussed high-technology projects, including nanotechnology, for which a pilot project is under way in Miskolc, Hungary. The Hungarian oil and gas company MOL signed an agreement with Gazprom in Budapest on June 21 on extending the Russian Blue Stream pipeline from Turkey to Europe. Gyurcsany and leading Gazprom officials reviewed the project, as well as the possible construction of a large Russian gas storage facility in Hungary, which Gyurcsany and Putin discussed during the Russian leader's visit to Hungary earlier in 2006. The two men met five times before that. PM
...WHILE EMBASSY SAYS BUDAPEST PROTESTS ARE NOT ANTI-RUSSIAN
The Russian Embassy in Budapest said on September 19 that the ongoing street protests against Prime Minister Gyurcsany are not anti-Russian in character even though a Russian monument at the venue of the demonstrations was slightly damaged, Interfax reported. The embassy stressed that there is no connection between the protests and the Socialist prime minister's visit to Russia. The sometimes violent demonstrations began after a tape was broadcast on September 17 in which Gyurcsany admitted to a closed meeting of Socialist legislators in May that he and his fellow politicians lied repeatedly to the voters in order to win the 2006 elections and that his party's government accomplished "nothing of which it could be proud" in the past four years, international media reported. The opposition has called for him to resign, which he refuses to do. PM
RUSSIA SAYS IRANIAN PLANT WILL COME ON LINE IN 2007
Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), said in Vienna on September 18 that the startup of the reactor at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran is due to take place in September 2007. He added that the plant itself will then come on line in November 2007. Kiriyenko also promoted President Putin's proposal for the creation of an international system of uranium-enrichment centers, saying such a facility could be ready to operate in Russian in 2007. Iran criticized Moscow in the spring of 2006 for alleged foot dragging on the power station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12 and 16, 2006). In related news, Russian officials announced the sale of five Tupolev Tu-204 passenger aircraft to the airlines Iran Air Tour, Interfax reported on September 18. Iran Air plans to lease two Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft and buy "several" if the carrier is pleased with the planes. PM
BURMA THANKS RUSSIA FOR SUPPORT
The Burmese military government on September 19 thanked Russia and China for their support in opposing a recent Western-backed move in the UN Security Council to put a discussion of the pariah regime's human rights record on that body's agenda, Western news agencies reported. The Burmese military said in a statement that Russia and China have shown that they "do not want the...Security Council to be misused as a tool in the interest of one big nation." On September 17, the Burmese state-run petroleum company, known as the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise, signed an agreement to jointly explore, drill, and extract oil and gas found in the Mottama Offshore Block (M-8) with Russia's Itera Oil and Gas Company and India's Sun Group. PM
PUTIN SUBMITS AMNESTY DECLARATION TO DUMA
President Putin submitted to the State Duma on September 18 a draft declaration, the text of which has not been made public, on an amnesty for persons who committed crimes during the "counterterrorism operation" in the North Caucasus, regnum.ru reported. On the recommendation of a State Duma Committee on civic and criminal legislation, persons who have committed "serious crimes" will not qualify for amnesty, but Pavel Krashenninikov, who chairs that committee, told the news agency that between 1,500-2,000 persons are eligible. The amnesty will last for six months from the date of its approval by the Duma. LF
CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER'S BROTHER VANISHES
Akhmad Umarov, who reportedly turned himself in to pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov on August 18 in response to FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev's July appeal to militants in the North Caucasus to surrender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 17 and August 21, 2006), disappeared several days after footage of his surrender was screened on Russian television, the resistance website kavkazcenter.com reported on September 15. None of Umarov's relatives or friends have any idea of his whereabouts. Umarov's brother Doku succeeded Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev in July as resistance commander and president of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria. LF
CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER KILLED
Chechen Prime Minister Kadyrov announced on September 18 that Isa Muskiyev, commander of the Kurchaloi, Shali, and Argun fronts, was killed in an ambush on the outskirts of Tsotsan-Yurt during the night of September 17-18, regnum.ru reported. Muskiyev's brother Ali reportedly also died in the ambush. The resistance website chechenpress.org confirmed on September 18 that the two Muskiyevs died in the course of a shoot-out lasting several hours in which they were outnumbered. LF
CHECHEN, INGUSH PARLIAMENT SPEAKERS APPEAL FOR CALM
Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov and Makhmud Sakalov, chairmen of the lower chambers of the Chechen and Ingush parliaments respectively, issued a joint appeal on September 15 in the wake of the shoot-out two days earlier on the border between those two federation subjects between Chechen Interior Ministry special forces (OMON) and Ingush traffic police in which eight men died, ingushetiya.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14 and 15, 2006). The two men cautioned against construing the incident as an interethnic clash, and they stressed the need for law-enforcement agencies in the two republics to coordinate their activities more closely when conducting cross-border operations. Issa Kostoev, who worked for three decades in the Interior Ministry prior to his election as Ingushetia's representative to the Federation Council, similarly argued in a September 15 interview with regnum.ru that the law-enforcement agencies of the various North Caucasus republics should draft clear ground rules for conducting and coordinating such cross-border operations. He described the September 13 shoot-out as the direct consequence of "an appallingly laid-back approach" on the part of the leaders of the ministries involved. LF
NEW ACTING PREMIER NAMED IN ADYGEYA
Republic of Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen issued a decree on September 16 naming former Adygeysk Mayor Kazbek Paranuk acting prime minister following the dismissal four days earlier of Evgeny Kovalyov, regnum.ru reported on September 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 15, 2006). Also on September 16, regnum.ru quoted Maykop State Technological University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov, who ran unsuccessfully against Sovmen in the 2001 presidential ballot, as arguing that sweeping changes are needed within the republic's leadership in order to kick-start the stagnating economy. An extensive analysis of the political situation in Adygeya posted on August 27 on regnum.ru identified Tkhakushinov as the leader of one of four main factions opposed to Sovmen, whose presidential term expires in January 2007. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SUPPORT FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM...
In an opening speech before an annual meeting of the Armenian diaspora on September 18, Robert Kocharian urged visiting leaders to assist in the government's new rural poverty eradication program, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Addressing the roughly 1,000 participants, Kocharian called on the visiting Armenians to help bridge the "huge" gap in development between urban and rural Armenia, which he noted as contributing "to the concentration of the population in Yerevan" and "depopulating the already weak rural regions." Although the president acknowledged the significant role of the $235.6 million in additional U.S. assistance to Armenia through the Millennium Challenge Account, he added that the aid "is not enough." Prime Minister Andranik Markarian also appealed for the diaspora's support for the rural development program, arguing that with just over one-third of the population living in villages and small towns, "economic growth has mainly had a positive impact" but has been largely limited to the capital Yerevan, as demonstrated by the over 40 percent poverty rate for rural areas. RG
...AND IDENTIFIES INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION OF NAGORNO-KARABAKH AS PRIORITY FOR ARMENIA
In the same speech to the diaspora conference in Yerevan, President Kocharian announced on September 18 that the international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state is a priority for Armenia, Mediamax reported. The president also said that the Karabakh economy "has been developing steadily" and with a record of "democratic reforms," Karabakh is becoming an "effective state." Commenting on the peace process seeking a negotiated resolution to the conflict, Kocharian noted that the conflict remains unresolved, although "several times we were close to signing an agreement." RG
TWO SUSPECTS CHARGED IN MURDER OF ARMENIAN TAX OFFICIAL...
Two suspects recently arrested for the September killing of an Armenian state tax official were formally charged on September 16 with murder and the illegal possession of firearms, Arminfo reported. The two suspects, brothers Armen and Gurgen Virabian, were arrested on September 13 by police investigating the car-bomb assassination of state tax official Shahen Hovasapian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 7 and 15, 2006). Armen Virabian, a former policeman, is a senior official in an investigative section within the State Taxation Service headed by Hovasapian, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. RG
...BUT THEIR ATTORNEY PROTESTS LACK OF EVIDENCE
Hovik Arsenian, the defense attorney for the two suspects, argued on September 18 that "there is no evidence" against his clients and suggested that the Armenian authorities are under pressure to force a speedy conviction in the case, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The defense lawyer stressed that "the only evidence cited by" the authorities is an allegation by the murdered official's driver that Armen Virabian recently befriended him. Unnamed law-enforcement officials have contended that Virabian lured the driver to a dinner meeting two days prior to the killing in order to plant an explosive device in the victim's unattended official car. RG
ARMENIA'S FORMER RULING PARTY TO PARTICIPATE IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
A senior leader of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) declared on September 18 that the party will participate in the May 2007 parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. According to Aram Manukian, the former ruling party of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian seeks to reenter politics and reaffirmed plans to form an electoral alliance with other opposition groups. It is unclear whether the mainstream leadership of the party will also seek to include its own dissident Armat faction led by former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian and former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian. The Armat faction of the party, which emerged after breaking with the party's current leadership dominated by loyalists of fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, has attempted but failed to build a similar united opposition electoral bloc in the past. Manukian further argued that although the party remains unpopular, it can win seats in parliament with the support of its allies, adding that it needs only "to restore trust and explain what's going on in our country." He also announced that the party will resume publication of its "Hayk" newspaper after a seven-year hiatus. RG
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS ON AZERBAIJANI, TURKISH DIASPORAS TO CONSOLIDATE
In a speech at a two-day conference on Turkic friendship and solidarity held in Antalya, Turkey, Ilham Aliyev called on September 18 for Azeri and Turkish groups living outside of their countries to mobilize and consolidate, Turan and ANS-TV reported. Referring to the seizure of several districts of Azerbaijan by Armenian forces at the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Aliyev vowed that "Azerbaijan will not allow its territory to be turned into a second Armenian state" and warned that "we will mobilize all of our forces: political, diplomatic, economic, and military, and we will liberate our land." Aliyev further called on the Azeri and Turkish diaspora organizations to consolidate to oppose "Armenian propaganda" regarding Azerbaijan and Turkey and welcomed plans to convene a joint forum of Azeri and Turkish diaspora organizations in Azerbaijan next year. RG
SOUTH OSSETIAN OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST ANY RESUMPTION OF HOSTILITIES BY GEORGIA...
South Ossetian Defense Minister Anatoliy Barankevich warned that any resumption of hostilities will only threaten Georgia and added that if Georgia attacks South Ossetia, "all of the Caucasus will rise to defend us and Georgia will be no more," Regnum reported on September 18. The official further accused the Georgian leadership of being "unpredictable" and argued that "they do not think about the consequences" of their policies regarding South Ossetia. Barankevich went on to say that while "Georgia is like a house of cards," with tension among its minority Armenian and Azeri population, South Ossetia is "capable of defending our independence and freedom for ourselves." RG
...AS SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER DEFENDS RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING PRESENCE
In comments to reporters at a press conference in Tskhinvali, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity announced on September 18 that recent "acts of provocation" by Georgia against South Ossetia seek to "discredit the Russian peacekeeping force" in order to replace it with a new international peacekeeping mission, Regnum reported. The South Ossetian leader threatened that "we will not accept any peacekeeping force" other than the Russians and warned against any Western or U.S. peacekeeping role, saying that "we do not want them to get even close to any peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, or the Dniester regions" as it "would result in bloodshed, terror, and the annihilation of small peoples." RG
FORMER KYRGYZ MILITARY OFFICIAL CLEARED OF SLANDER CHARGES
A Kyrgyz military court in Bishkek ruled on September 18 to dismiss all charges against former Deputy Defense Minister Mels Bekboev based on his appeal of an earlier slander conviction, the Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg reported. A lower military court convicted him of slander charges in late July and fined him 10,000 soms ($250) for criticizing Defense Minister Ismail Isakov in an interview with a Kyrgyz newspaper. RG
KYRGYZ SECURITY FORCES ARREST SUSPECTED ISLAMIC MILITANTS
Kyrgyz National Security Service (SNB) forces conducted a raid on September 18 in the northeastern town of Balikchi and arrested suspected members of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, according to 24.kg. Reportedly members of three different branches of the group, the suspects were found to be in possession of extremist religious literature and audiotapes, knives, and live ammunition; at least one of the detainees confessed to being an active member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. RG
TAJIK POLITICAL PARTIES NAME CANDIDATES FOR COMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
As Tajikistan's official campaign season opened, several political parties on September 17 named their candidates for the November 6 presidential election, Asia-Plus reported. After a party congress in Dushanbe, the Economic Reform Party named its chairman, Olimjon Boboev, as its candidate for president. Boboev unveiled an election platform that included measures to reduce poverty, introduce greater competition and transparency in privatization, and attract greater foreign investment. Although officially established only last year, the Economic Reform Party has more than 5,000 members and is represented in 61 of the 68 main cities and districts throughout Tajikistan. The Agrarian Party and both wings of the Socialist Party have also named their candidates for president: Amirqul Qaraqulov for the Agrarian Party, and Mirhuseyn Narziev and Abduhalim Ghafforov of the two factions of the Socialist Party. Founded in 1996, the Socialist Party split into two rival camps in June 2004, after the reelection of Nazriev as party leader prompted Ghafforov to form a dissident faction. President Imomali Rakhmonov said recently that he will announce his reelection plans during his ruling People's Democratic Party's congress next week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). Rakhmonov, who has ruled Tajikistan since 1994, can legally seek two more seven-year terms. RG
RFE/RL TAJIK CORRESPONDENT BRIEFLY DETAINED
Tajik police briefly detained RFE/RL correspondent Nosir Mamurzoda along with a reporter from Avesta news agency on September 18, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The journalists were detained and questioned by police in the southern city of Qorghan-Teppa after reporting on Tajik students allegedly forced to work in the area's cotton fields. Mamurzoda said he was released after being warned to be "careful" not to report news that could "destabilize the country." RG
UZBEK JOURNALIST ARRESTED
A prominent Uzbek journalist was recently arrested on September 14 by police in the central city of Jizzakh, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and the Uzbek opposition website uzbekinfo.org reported on September 18. Ulugbek Khaidarov, an independent journalist, was arrested on September 14 and charged with accepting some $400 in bribes, according to his sister, Nortoji. RG
MINSK SIGNALS INTENTION TO BUILD NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
National Academy of Sciences Chairman Mikhail Myasnikovich told journalists in Minsk on September 18 that Belarus may begin the construction of a nuclear power plant in 2008, Belapan reported. Myasnikovich explained that before starting the construction, Belarus needs to adopt some 15 acts and conduct research to study the geological peculiarities of the construction area. He added that experts have examined more than 40 possible construction sites and selected one but did not disclose where it is located. JM
BELARUS REPORTS $1 BILLION MILITARY DEAL WITH VENEZUELA
Viktar Sheyman, state secretary of Belarus's Security Council, said in a television interview on September 17 that his visit to Venezuela on September 4-8 will bring Belarus large economic profits, Belapan reported on September 18. Sheyman revealed that the delegation he headed concluded a number of agreements on cooperation in the defense sphere, which he said were expected to result in contracts totaling more than $1 billion. He added that dozens of Belarusian companies engaged in the defense industry will have a sufficient amount of orders for many years to come. JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST PUNISHED AGAIN FOR DEMONSTRATING IN MARCH
A district court in Minsk on September 18 sentenced opposition politician Vyachaslau Siuchyk to 10 days in jail for his participation in antigovernment protests on Minsk's October Square following the presidential election on March 19, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Siuchyk was already convicted of this charge in May but later that month a higher court annulled the 10-day jail term imposed on him because he was tried in absentia. Siuchyk, who fled to Ukraine in the meantime, was arrested in Minsk on September 12 and spent five days in a detention center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). JM
TYMOSHENKO BLOC INVITES OUR UKRAINE TO JOIN OPPOSITION
The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) has said it can sign an accord on the creation of a parliamentary-opposition alliance with Our Ukraine on September 22, Interfax-Ukraine reported on September 18. According to the BYuT, the signing ceremony, which was planned for September 19, was postponed by three days to give Our Ukraine time to finally decide on its status in parliament. Our Ukraine has reportedly been in talks on signing an expanded coalition deal with the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party since early September. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on September 18 that he wants to see an "effective" opposition in Ukraine. He added that a potential law on the opposition should introduce "a mechanism of effective control over the actions of the authorities." JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER SPEAKS AGAINST INDEPENDENCE FOR TRANSDNIESTER
Prime Minister Yanukovych told journalists in Luhansk on September 18 that the status of an autonomy for the secessionist Transdniester would be the best way to resolve its conflict with Moldova, Ukrainian media reported. "To my mind, the future pattern should be like that: Transdniester and Moldova should divide powers but remain a single country; there should be two parliaments, here and there; and a certain time should be assigned for solving pressing problems," Yanukovych said. "Nowhere is [the September 17 referendum in Transdniester] recognized as official, but the people held this referendum, and it is perhaps of an advisory nature, and we should speak about it with respect. But, does it exacerbate the conflict or not? I would say yes rather than no," he added. JM
SERBIAN WAR CRIMES COURT SENTENCES FIRST ETHNIC ALBANIAN
In its first verdict against an ethnic Albanian, the War Crimes Chamber of Belgrade's District Court has sentenced Anton Lekaj to 13 years in prison, Reuters reported on September 18. Anton Lekaj, a former member of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), was found guilty for his part in the killing of a Romany man and the torture of 10 other people, including the rape of an underage girl. The crimes took place in June 1999 during the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province following NATO's air campaign. The court ruled that the then 19-year-old Lekaj was among a group of UCK soldiers who abducted 11 people, mostly Roma attending a wedding party, in southern Kosova. The soldiers held them captive for four days, tortured them, and "committed inhumane acts" against them, according to the court. BW
SPOKESWOMAN SAYS UN ENVOY HAS GREEN LIGHT TO PROPOSE KOSOVA SOLUTION
The Contact Group has instructed UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari to begin working on a final-status proposal for Kosova, B92 and Beta reported on September 18, citing Ahtisaari's spokeswoman Hua Jiang. Hua told Beta in a telephone interview that the Contact Group, which comprises Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and the United States, has "in one of the recent meetings already instructed Ahtisaari to start work on the Kosovo status proposal." She did not specify when the meeting took place. Ahtisaari is scheduled to meet with the Contact Group on September 20. Reuters reported on September 15 that Ahtisaari planned to seek permission from the major powers to craft a solution himself. Russia, which opposes independence for Kosova, has threatened to use its Security Council veto against any solution it deems unfair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006). BW
REPUBLIKA SRPSKA INDEPENDENCE TALK REPORTEDLY AIMED AT INFLUENCING KOSOVA SOLUTION
Diplomats and analysts in Bosnia-Herzegovina say that Serbia is fanning the flames of independence in Republika Srpska as a way to hold on to Kosova, Reuters reported on September 18. "Belgrade has been using Bosnian Serbs in its bargaining, telling them to speak up and say they'll claim independence if Kosovo goes," Reuters quoted an unidentified Sarajevo-based diplomat as saying. In the run-up to Bosnia's October 1 elections, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has raised the issue of independence a number of times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 14, and 15, 2006). But analysts said that what started as a political maneuver could have dangerous consequences if independence-minded Bosnian Serbs take the rhetoric seriously. "It is obvious that we are bracing for a very serious political crisis because of the Serbs' attitude," Senad Slatina of Sarajevo's Center for European Integration Strategies said. BW
MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOMINATE PREMIER FOR NEW TERM
Filip Vujanovic said on September 18 that he will nominate current Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic for a new four-year term, AP reported the same day. "I'll do this with pleasure because Djukanovic personifies Montenegro's government...and this is the expectation of Montenegro's citizens," Vujanovic said. After leading the ruling coalition to victory in Montenegro's first postindependence elections on September 10, Djukanovic said he is considering retirement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). There was no immediate reaction from Djukanovic to Vujanovic's proposal, which has yet to be formally submitted to the new parliament, AP reported. BW
MOLDOVA REFUSES TO RECOGNIZE TRANSDNIESTER REFERENDUM RESULTS...
Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan announced on September 18 that Chisinau will not recognize the results of an independence referendum in the breakaway Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "Yesterday will not change anything," Stratan said. "We shall not recognize the results of the referendum. It was a political farce staged by the authorities in Tiraspol. The Moldovan authorities seek genuine democratization of the [Transdniester] region and the Foreign Ministry will go ahead with its policy of unifying the country," he added. In the September 17 vote, 97.1 percent supported independence and eventual unification with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). BW
...AS DOES EUROPEAN UNION
The European Union also announced on September 18 that it does not recognize the Transdniester referendum, AP reported the same day. "The EU does not recognize in any possible way the referendum or its results," EU spokesman Pietro Petrucci said. Petrucci added that since no country in the world recognizes Transdniester as an independent state, the EU will not comment further on the results. BW
CONTRADICTIONS HINT AT DIVISION WITHIN NEO-TALIBAN
Media efforts have intensified by the various elements that oppose the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. The stepped-up public campaign of the so-called neo-Taliban has accompanied increased insurgency and terrorism efforts by those same guerrillas.
But while they have managed to convey their messages with greater frequency, their pronouncements have sometimes been marked by glaring contradictions. While inconsistencies are not new to the neo-Taliban, their recent frequency suggests strains could reemerge between Afghan opponents of the central government and their foreign allies.
At least a dozen people have purported to speak for the "Taliban" since 2003, when a man named Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed claimed that a 10-member, Taliban "leadership council" had been created. They have sometimes issued contradictory statements -- even leaving aside spokesmen from self-described splinter groups that loosely identify themselves with the ousted Taliban regime.
In late 2004, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi emerged as the primary voice of the Taliban. Unlike previous spokesmen, who contacted media outlets by fax, Hakimi began giving telephone interviews. Since Hakimi's arrest by Pakistani authorities in October 2005, two men have come forward, declaring themselves spokesmen for the Taliban: Dr. Mohammad Hanif and Qari Mohammad Yusof. They have sometimes been joined by other self-described spokesmen.
There has also been a marked difference in the use of the Internet by the movement. A website recently emerged that purports to represent the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the name of the country during the rule of the Taliban. It is updated daily -- sometimes more than once a day. While the website continues to follow a neo-Taliban trend of exaggerating the number of losses to Afghan or foreign troops and minimizing its own casualties, it also contains updated information on operations -- including suicide missions -- carried out by the insurgents. The website has included statements made by Mohammad Hanif and Mohammad Yusof, as well as statements allegedly made by the Taliban leadership.
Statements issued by Mohammad Hanif and Mohammad Yusof have differed from the website most markedly in references to insurgents. The two spokesmen usually refer to their organization as the "Taliban," while the website increasingly refers to the organization as the "Islamic Emirate" and the fighters as mujahedin (also mojahedin). Mujahedin is a term that, in the course of Islamic history, has been used by many groups to identify their struggles to defend Islam. But it gained global currency in Afghanistan during the 1979-89 Soviet occupation.
The original Taliban, who emerged from the ranks of the mujahedin in the mid-1990s, differentiated themselves as talibs -- meaning "seekers" or "students" -- of Islamic sciences. The choice highlighted their struggle against former mujahedin commanders and leaders who had been in control of Afghanistan since 1992.
The most recent contradiction between statements of the spokesmen of the Taliban and the website of the "Islamic Emirate" followed the suicide attack that killed Paktiya Governor Hakim Taniwal on September 10. Soon after that attack, Mohammad Hanif told a Peshawar-based news agency, Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), that the killing was carried out by a Paktiya resident. He added that he had "no further details" beyond the attacker's name. Similarly, on the day of the Taniwal assassination, the "Islamic Emirate" website posted a report that identified the attacker as a heroic "seeker of knowledge" (mujahed talib al-'ilm) of the Islamic Emirate -- using the term "talib" in its traditional linguistic, not political, meaning.
On September 11, another suicide bomber targeted a number of Afghan security officials attending Taniwal's funeral in neighboring Khost Province, killing six people. The website indicated that a "heroic mujahed of the Islamic Emirate" carried out a "martyrdom-seeking" attack against high-level officers at the funeral.
But Mohammad Hanif, speaking to AIP, expressed "strong condemnation," and said his movement had not committed the attack on the funeral.
The stark contrast could be related to conflicting ideologies within the ranks of the neo-Taliban. But it might also indicate a lack of any centralized command and control of the activities or policies of the far-flung movement.
A majority of neo-Taliban militants and sympathizers might well have viewed the assassination of Governor Taniwal as legitimate. He was a close confidant of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after all. But an attack on the attendees of any funeral service is generally disdained as running counter to Pashtun tribal norms.
A rift arose under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan between many traditional Taliban and elements who identified themselves with Arab Islamists -- namely Al-Qaeda. Allies of the Arab elements eventually gained the upper hand.
But the same ideological split could be resurfacing, if indications are correct of increasing contacts between some neo-Taliban and self-proclaimed "jihadists" operating in Iraq.
The "Islamic Emirate" website refers to the insurgents as "mujahedin" -- the same term being applied to insurgents and terrorists in Iraq. That -- and the existence of an Arabic version of the same website -- could indicate a link between the people behind the website and more radical global Islamists who are not sensitive to Pashtun traditions.
SUICIDE ATTACK KILLS FOUR CANADIANS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...
A man on a bicycle detonated explosives he was carrying in the vicinity of Canadian soldiers in the village of Char Kota in Kandahar Province on September 18, killing four soldiers and wounding 11 others and injuring 27 Afghans, most of them children, "The New York Times" reported. NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander British Lieutenant General David Richards, who on September 17 declared the region free of Taliban control, called the action "as much an attack on the Afghan people as an attack [on ISAF]." The four deaths brought the number of Canadians soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 36, Canadian Press reported on September 18. Canada, which maintains around 2,300 soldiers in Afghanistan, leads the NATO force in Kandahar. AT
...AS NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY
Qari Mohammad Yusof, purporting to speak for the Taliban, claimed responsibility of the suicide attack in Char Kota on September 18, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported the same day. "A young Taliban fighter, Qodratullah, riding a bicycle, blew himself up among foreign troops who were on foot," Mohammad Yusof told AIP, claiming that 16 foreign troops were killed in the attack. AT
SECURITY CHIEF AMONG 10 KILLED IN SUICIDE ATTACK IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Eleven people, including a Herat Province security commander and four policemen, were killed in an apparent suicide attack near the grand mosque in the city of Herat, Kabul-based Lemar Television reported on September 18. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT
SUICIDE CAR-BOMB ATTACK KILLS THREE POLICEMEN IN KABUL
Three Afghan policemen were killed and nine people were injured in a suicide attack involving a vehicle in Kabul on September 18, "The New York Times" reported. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on September 18 that a heroic mujahed of the "Islamic Emirate" carried out a "martyrdom-seeking" attack killing 10 "foreign occupiers." In a seemingly inadvertent omission, the website does not provide the attacker's name. AT
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM TO HAVE KILLED TURKISH CAPTIVE
A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan claimed on September 18 that a Turkish engineer abducted in late August has been beheaded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29, 2006). The website claims that a decision to kill the man -- identified as Mustafa Asemi -- was based on Shari'a and taken after the company that employed him refused to stop working in Afghanistan. There has been no independent confirmation of his death. AT
IRAN GIRDS FOR FURTHER FINANCIAL SANCTIONS
Ibrahim Sheibani, governor of the Central Bank of Iran, announced on September 16 that Iran is converting some of its dollar reserves to other currencies, state radio reported. Sheibani said the step is a reaction to U.S. sanctions against the Bank Saderat, announced by Washington in early September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2006). "We intend to pursue all legal means and we expect the International Monetary Fund to adopt an appropriate stance against this unilateral and illegal move," Sheibani added. In Singapore on September 16, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson discussed Iran with finance ministers from the G-7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States), international media reported. Paulson reportedly warned against the activities of companies that are suspected of serving as fronts for Iranian weapons programs and which are reputedly used to support terrorism, "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" reported on September 18. BS
NORWAY, FRANCE INVESTING BILLIONS IN IRANIAN ENERGY SECTOR
National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Managing Director Gholam Hussein Nozari announced on September 18 the signing one day earlier of a contract with a Norwegian firm called Hydro Zagros, IRNA reported. Hydro Zagros Oil and Gas is the name under which Norsk Hydro operates in Iran, and the contract is for exploration and development of a block in the Khoramabad oil field. Nozari said Hydro Zagros will invest $49.5 million in the project. NIOC and the Societe General Bank of France will sign a $2.7 billion financing agreement for projects in the South Pars oil and gas field on September 20, Fars News Agency reported on September 18, citing that day's "Tehran Times." BS
IRAN PREPARES FOR 'SACRED DEFENSE WEEK'
Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Mustafa Mohammad Najjar announced on September 18 that several defense projects will commence in the coming days, Fars News Agency reported. Iran marks the annual "Sacred Defense Week" -- the commemoration of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War -- in late September. Najjar said some of the MODAFL's new products will be displayed during a September 22 parade. Also on September 18, Admiral Sajjad Kuchaki, commander of the Iranian navy, announced domestic manufacturing of the Joshan missile boat, state radio reported. He also introduced the 76-millimeter Fajr gun that can be used against surface vessels at a range of 16 kilometers or aerial targets at altitudes up to around 7,000 meters. The gun's rate of fire can vary from 10 rounds per minute to 85 per minute. BS
TEHRAN REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OF RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Mohammad Ali Husseini said on September 17 that the most recent "International Religious Freedom Report" from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which was released on September 15, is politically motivated, Fars News Agency reported. Husseini said the reports shows that Washington is not really interested in human rights or religious liberty, and he claimed the report's real purpose is to further U.S. foreign policy objectives. Husseini said the report is of "no value." The State Department report accuses the Iranian government of "restricting religious freedom" (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71421.htm). Shi'ite Islam is Iran's state religion, and the report referred to difficulties faced by the Baha'i, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Sufi, and Zoroastrian minorities: "There were reports of imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on religious beliefs." The situation has worsened since the election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the report alleges. BS
IRAQ-BASED EX-MKO MEMBERS SEEK WESTERN ASYLUM
The new UN Human Rights Council is meeting in Geneva for the next two weeks, and some former members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization gathered outside the meeting place to demand that 160 other former members be given refuge in the West, Radio Farda reported on September 18. The Mujahedin Khalq Organization (commonly known as the MKO or MEK, and which uses a variety of cover names including People's Mujahedin of Iran) is listed as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. State Department. The MEK was based in Iraq and operated against Iran at Saddam Hussein's behest; many of its members now reside in Camp Ashraf (100 kilometers from Baghdad) where they enjoy the Geneva Convention's "protected person" status, and some members have returned to Iran voluntarily. Milad Ariai, who left the MEK after 20 years, told Radio Farda that many of the 160 asylum seekers are citizens of Western countries. Because the MEK is regarded as a terrorist organization by many countries, he continued, the former members are having problems going to the West. BS
IRAQ TO ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR SECOND GOVERNORATE
Iraq is to resume responsibility for the security of the Dhi Qar Governorate this week, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters in Baghdad on September 18, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Italian troops will transfer authority on September 21, he said. "This is another step on the path of building our national forces and the transfer of the security portfolio into Iraqi hands." Al-Dabbagh also announced that the Iraqi army will assume command of its 4th Division, based in Salah Al-Din. At the same press briefing, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said that the military continues to strike at Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in the Al-Anbar Governorate. Caldwell said some 90 military operations were carried out over the past two weeks, leading to the detention of 800 suspected militants and the killing of 60 fighters, RFI reported. Al-Anbar tribal Sheikh Fassal al-Ga'ud told AP in a September 18 interview that 15 of the governorate's 18 tribes have sworn to establish the Al-Anbar Salvation Council, an armed force of 20,000 to fight insurgents there. KR
IRAQI INSURGENT GROUPS REACT TO POPE'S SPEECH
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council issued an Internet statement on September 18 vowing to crush the "crusaders" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Saying Pope Benedict XVI's declarations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006) were made in "support of the crusader war," the statement claimed: "We say to the worshipper of the cross: you and the Romans have a rendezvous with defeat.... God will support Muslims and conquer Rome in the same way they conquered Constantine." The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army claimed in a September 18 statement that Christians are engaged in a holy war to destroy Islam. It appealed to Muslims to take up the fight against the West and vowed that the "enemies of God" will "see nothing from us but the sword...until [they] return to the religion of God." It added, "The day when the armies of the true religion will tear down the walls of Rome are nearing." The Iraqi Jihadist Leagues vowed in a September 17 statement that the Army of Muhammad will soon disturb the pope's throne, and "expose the evidence, which you and your predecessors have been hiding, that proves the validity of the message of Muhammad." KR
TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER CAUTIONS AGAINST FEDERALISM
Abdullah Gul warned that federalism could lead to the breakup of Iraq, AP reported on September 18. Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the American Turkish Society in New York, Gul said, "The core problem is that if Iraq is divided, definitely there will be civil war and definitely neighboring countries will be involved in this." Gul added that the sectarian violence now plaguing Iraq "is dangerous for the region and the whole world." Gul did not appear to comment on reports of an announcement by the Iraqi government on September 18 that it has decided to close the offices of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and ban the party's activities in Iraq. KR
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS ON INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO HELP IRAQ
Kofi Annan told leaders from 31 delegations attending a September 18 meeting at the UN in New York that Iraq needs the help of its neighbors and the international community to move forward, according to the text of his speech on the UN's website. Annan praised the Iraqi government's efforts to bring peace and stability through its national reconciliation plan and Baghdad peace initiative, but added, "To be effective, any national dialogue must mirror closer regional cooperation." Annan said the Arab League's support of a national-accord conference is one way regional players can help Iraq. He applauded the September 18 meeting for regional interior ministers in Saudi Arabia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006) and this week's upcoming meeting of regional foreign ministers in New York. Annan said the international community, "May not be able to ensure Iraq's success, but it can guarantee failure if it does not come through in time with sufficient support." The secretary-general called on the international community to support the International Compact with Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006). KR