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Newsline - October 16, 2006

On October 14, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose financial and weapons sanctions on North Korea to punish the country for its recent, declared nuclear-weapon test, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 11, and 13, 2006). Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said the resolution was aimed at persuading North Korea to reconsider its dangerous nuclear course and return to six-country negotiations with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. In the meetings leading up to the drafting of the text, Russia and China clashed with the United States over their insistence that the document specifically rule out any military measures against Pyongyang. After the resolution was passed, Churkin stressed that the sanctions must be lifted as soon as North Korea complies with the council's demands. Speaking in Beijing on October 14, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseyev said after visiting North Korea that the resolution was "adequate." On October 15 in Seoul, he argued that Pyongyang still favors the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and wants to resume the six-party talks. Before the resolution was passed, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stressed that it must not contain any threat of using force. PM

Aleksandr Lukin, who heads the Center for East Asian Studies at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), wrote in the daily "Kommersant" of October 16 that it is in Russia's interest to be tough with North Korea and that any softer stand amounts to a betrayal. He argued that "the spread of nuclear weapons greatly depreciates Russia's influence in the world. That is, the more nuclear states, the less is Russia's relative military power. This is a purely pragmatic reason. In addition, there are a number of other negative consequences of nuclear proliferation, such as the risk of a nuclear conflict and the threat to Russia's national security in its Far East." He said that recent remarks by people like General Leonid Ivashov, who once headed the Defense Ministry's International Department, are tantamount to "treason" by appearing to appease the Pyongyang regime in order to spite Washington. Lukin argued that the United States and Russia share identical interests where nuclear proliferation is concerned. He added that Moscow and Washington would both benefit by the collapse of the North Korean regime and the unification of Korea, which could then play an important role in developing Russia's Far East. Lukin noted that this would not necessarily be in China's interest. He concluded that "true patriotism lies not in taking on a hysterical anti-Western attitude, but in promoting the real strengthening of one's own country." PM

Just days after President Vladimir Putin complained to German businessmen about Western restrictions on Russian investors, Russia's Industry and Energy Ministry has sent the government its recommendations for declaring seven industrial branches "strategic" and limiting foreign investments in them, reported on October 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, June 21, and October 12 and 13, 2006). The sectors are reportedly "special equipment, arms and military equipment, aerospace, space, atomic energy, activities involving monopolies, and developing deposits of federal significance." The changes will mean that 30 additional oil fields and 40 further gas fields will be added to the "strategic" list. The threshold on copper, for example, has been slashed from 10 million to 500,000 tons. The State Duma is expected to discuss the measure later this year. If approved, the legislation will take effect in mid-2007. PM

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the BBC on October 15 that Russia must find and prosecute those responsible for the recent killing of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya, reported on October 16 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 11, and 12, 2006). Barroso added that he will raise the issue with President Putin in person. Barroso argued that "it's a question of the credibility of the Russian government and the Russian authorities to show that they are able to bring to justice those who make those hideous crimes. We want those who have assassinated Ms. Politkovskaya -- a great fighter for freedom of be brought to justice." He added that the EU will "be frank with Russia" over the killing. Barroso stressed that "we have an interest in having good relations with Russia, but I believe Russia also has an interest in having good relations with the European Union." In related news, reported on October 16 that Vera Politkovskaya, who is the slain journalist's daughter, is now under constant protection as a witness in her mother's slaying. In addition to the official investigation, Anna Politkovskaya's newspaper, "Novaya gazeta," is conducting its own enquiry, albeit in "full cooperation" with the prosecutors. Editor in Chief Dmitry Muratov said that considerable materials have been assembled but declined to elaborate. PM

London's "Financial Times" of October 16 quoted several unnamed EU diplomats as saying that they now believe it was a mistake to invite President Putin to a EU-Russia summit in Lahti, Finland, on October 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12 and 13, 2006). Some said that the summit will make it plain to Putin that there is "toe-curling...disunity" within the bloc, which would "give [him] firsthand proof that the EU cannot act as a single powerful negotiating partner." One diplomat added that such a scenario "would be a disaster for the EU." The daily also suggested that Putin might be tempted to exploit those divisions and follow up on past practices of "striking bilateral gas deals with several countries, including Germany, and building warm relations with Paris." One diplomat said that the timing of the summit "is awful" on account of the recent killing of Anna Politkovskaya. "We are making Putin the guest of honor and giving him a platform to give us a lecture on Gazprom and environmental policy." This is presumably an allusion to Russia's effective blocking of the Sakhalin-2 gas production-sharing agreement (PSA) with Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi, ostensibly for ecological reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 22, 2006). On October 16, Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev threatened Shell with yet additional sanctions. PM

Vladimir Chizhov, who is Russia's ambassador to the EU, told the "Financial Times" of October 16 that he hopes the upcoming Russia-EU summit will be positive but warned that President Putin will "not take criticisms of Russia lying down." Chizhov told the EU to stop trying to turn countries like Ukraine away from Russia and offering them the choice of "either forwards with the EU or backwards with Russia." He warned that what he called "centrifugal elements" in Ukraine might take heart from "European interference" there. Chizhov argued that EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana should have gone to Budapest to stop the recent street protests the way he did in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution of 2004. Chizhov also called on Brussels to do something about Estonia, which he said is being turned into an "SS hall of fame." The ambassador denied any official involvement in the killing of Politkovskaya, saying that "the Russian authorities may have some deficiencies but they are not crazy people who get involved in murdering journalists." PM

A 21-year-old drunk, unlicensed driver hit a column of 200 marching military cadets at high speed on October 14 in the Ryazan area, killing six of the cadets, RIA Novosti reported. Fourteen cadets and officers are still hospitalized, with one cadet in critical condition. The unnamed driver and his five drunken passengers are in custody after attempting to flee the scene. If found guilty, the driver faces a prison sentence of up to seven years. PM

Aleksandr Semyonov, a member of the Irbit city council in Sverdlovsk Oblast, was found dead, apparently of a gunshot wound, on a central street on October 15, ITAR-TASS reported. He had a criminal record and spent about 10 years in prison. Police are investigating. PM

In an interview with pegged to the first anniversary of the multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik on October 13, 2005, Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov said that he does not think more than 5 percent of the estimated 200 young militants who participated were "genuine militant fighters," according to on October 14. Kanokov admitted that the undiscriminating brutal crackdown by police on young Muslim believers in the months prior to the attack contributed to their alienation, as did the high level of corruption among the republic's previous leadership. Kanokov also said that he believes the Yarmuk and Kabardino-Balkar jamaats that were blamed for the violence still exist, even though the previous leadership reported their destruction. But he predicted that there will be no repeat of the 2005 attack, in which 33 police, 12 civilians, and up to 90 militants died. LF

Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak submitted to President Putin on October 12 the names of three potential candidates for the post of president of the Republic of Adygeya, according to as reposted by on October 13. They are Adygeya parliament Chairman Ruslan Khadjibiyokov; Aslan Khashir, who represents the republic on the Federation Council; and Maykop State Technical University Rector Aslancheryy Tkhakushinov, whose candidacy has been endorsed by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3 and 4, 2006). All three candidates reportedly outlined their presidential programs at an October 10 meeting in Moscow of that party's top leadership. Incumbent President Khazret Sovmen, whose term expires in January 2007, was likewise invited to attend that meeting as a prospective candidate but declined to do so. LF

Additional police detachments numbering 25 men each are to be created in all towns and districts in Ingushetia, reported on October 14 quoting Interior Ministry spokesman Nadir Yevloyev. To that end, police are to be deployed to Ingushetia from elsewhere in Russia, including from Tomsk, according to on October 15. An unidentified Ingushetian official told that the additional detachments will to all intents and purposes duplicate the existing Ingushetian police force. He further explained that the rationale for the deployment was the shoot-out on September 13 between Ingushetian police and Chechen OMON (special police) detachments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14 and 15, 2006). LF

The Armenian parliament voted late on October 13 to lift the parliamentary immunity of a deputy facing criminal charges of "hooliganism" and tax evasion, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo reported. The 56-22 vote followed several hours of often heated debate in which Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian revealed fresh charges of embezzlement and fraud against Hakob Hakobian, a wealthy, 43-year-old businessman representing a rural, southern constituency. Although the parliamentary vote effectively allows prosecutors to move ahead with criminal proceedings, deputies approved the lifting of the deputy's immunity only on the condition that he is not subject to pretrial detention and with the stipulation that prosecutors will have to seek parliamentary approval once again for any trial that follows the criminal investigation. Hakobian, a pro-government deputy who recently joined the ruling Republic Party of Armenia (HHK), was arrested late on October 8 in connection with an armed attack on a gas-distribution facility in a village south of Yerevan that left four men seriously injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006). If brought to trial, Hakobian would be the fifth sitting member of parliament to face criminal charges in the 15 years of Armenian independence. RG

Speaking to reporters in Yerevan, the chairman of the Russian state railway company, Vladimir Yakunin, expressed on October 13 interest in participating in an international tender for the small Armenian railway network, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Yakunin noted that the final decision to enter the tender set for next year will rest with the Russian government but confirmed that Russia is seeking the restoration of regional rail links that have been largely idle since the outbreak of conflict in the region in the 1990s. The head of the Armenian railway, Ararat Khrimian, explained that a recent World Bank study determined that at least $170 million needs to be invested in the Soviet-era network over the next decade. RG

A team of international experts led by the OSCE concluded on October 12 a fact-finding mission along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border to investigate the causes of massive wildfires reported in Armenian-controlled territories of Azerbaijan in recent months, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The weeklong mission was conducted in accordance with a September 7 resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly that expressed "serious concern" over the reported fires but stopped short of supporting Azerbaijani allegations that the fires were deliberately started by the Armenians. The OSCE mission is due to submit its formal assessment to the UN General Assembly by April 2007. RG

Speaking to reporters following trilateral talks in Baku, Azerbaijani Transport Minister Zia Mamedov announced on October 14 that an agreement has been reached between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey on the proposed Kars-Akhalkalalki-Baku railway project, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Officials signed an additional two key protocols the previous day, including agreements on the Georgian allocation of land for the railway line and on the trilateral financing of the $422 million project. The two-year railway project is now subject to parliamentary ratification by each of the three participating states, although Turkey is anxious to begin the project by early 2007. The proposed railway project comprises the construction of some 105 kilometers of rail line, with a new 29-kilometer route through Georgia and another 76-kilometer track through Turkey, as well as the modernization of a 150-kilometer section of the existing Georgian railway. The planned railway is projected to handle some 5 million tons of cargo in the first year and seeks to extend beyond the region, to Kazakhstan and on to China. RG

Azerbaijani Energy Minister Natiq Aliyev announced on October 13 that he is unable to guarantee supplies of natural gas from Azerbaijan to Georgia next year, Caucasus Press reported. In comments to reporters after a meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Nika Gilauri, in Baku, Aliyev explained that he is unable to give a "concrete reply" to Georgia's request for increased gas supplies because Azerbaijan may need to use its gas to meet increasing domestic demand. Azerbaijan is hoping to benefit from new gas supplies from the 400 billion-cubic-meter offshore Shakh Deniz gas field, due to come on line sometime next year, but remains dependent on imports of between 4 billion and 4.5 billion cubic meters a year from Russia's Gazprom monopoly. Georgia is also actively seeking to find alternative supplies of natural gas in order to lessen its dependence on Russian imports and requested an increase in the amount of gas from the Shakh-Deniz deposit to which Georgia will be entitled in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2006). RG

Azerbaijani police forcibly dispersed on October 13 some 30 demonstrators near the Iranian Embassy in Baku, Turan reported. The demonstration was organized to protest Iran's "suppression of the cultural and national rights" of ethnic Azeris and to campaign for Azeri-language education for the Azeri minority in Iran. Police detained around 10 participants in the protest. Baku police broke up a similar demonstration late last month in front of the Iranian embassy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 27, 2006). RG

Mikheil Saakashvili issued on October 14 a call on all Georgians living in Russia to return to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The president added that his call for a mass return was driven by a wave of "oppression and ethnic discrimination" in Russia that has fostered "the gross encroachment" of rights of Georgians, their "deportation in inhumane conditions," and the "confiscation of their documents and property." He further said that "we have to build our country" and "return to Abkhazia," adding that the "naturalization process will be simplified for all returnees who have Russian citizenship." RG

During a meeting in New York, the UN Security Council adopted on October 13 a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) by another six months, until April 15, 2007, and calling on Georgia to exercise restraint in the wake of a crisis in relations with Russia, RFE/RL reported. The Russian-sponsored resolution stated that the "new and tense" situation resulted in part from the July Georgian military operation in the upper Kodori Gorge and urged Tbilisi to ensure that no military forces not authorized by the 1994 cease-fire agreement be deployed to the area. The resolution also reiterated that Georgia "address seriously legitimate Abkhaz security concerns" and called on Georgian leaders to avoid militant rhetoric or provocative actions. It also urged the Abkhaz leadership to tackle "the need for a dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees" and to publicly reassure local residents, especially in the Gali district, that their rights of residency and identity will be respected. Following the vote, Security Council members also called on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to explore how both sides can build confidence, improve security, and reduce tension in the upper Kodori Gorge and in the districts of Gali and Zugdidi. RG

In a statement released in Sukhum, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba welcomed on October 13 the UN Security Council's resolution on Georgia, Caucasus Press and ApsnyPress reported. Shamba welcomed the resolution but noted that Abkhazia will continue to insist "on the withdrawal of Georgian troops and the government-in-exile from Kodori." Abkhaz Vice President Raul Khajimba added that "the UN Security Council has for the first time voiced its firm position regarding the conduct of the Georgian authorities" and hailed the move as contributing to a "diffusion of tension in the region." RG

Responding to the adoption of the UN resolution, the Georgian President Saakashvili's special envoy to the Georgian-Abkhaz talks, Irakli Alasania, criticized the resolution on October 13 for failing to recognize the "inefficiency" of the Russian-led CIS peacekeeping troops, adding that "the time for the status quo preservation is over" and arguing that "we want to have the real, meaningful peacekeeping operation on the ground," according to RFE/RL. Alasania also said that Russian troops could still comprise part of a new, modified peacekeeping force and that "they can play, if the political will is there, a positive role in the conflict resolution." Commenting on the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Abkhaz Foreign Minister Shamba, thereby preventing him from attending the UN meeting in New York, Alasania said that Shamba would not have been allowed to enter the UN building in Manhattan even if he had been granted a U.S. visa, as only representatives of officially recognized countries can attend sessions of the Security Council. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin "expressed regret" that Moscow was unable to include Shamba in the UN consultations, ITAR-TASS reported. RG

In a televised address, President Saakashvili echoed criticism of the UN resolution on October 13 for containing "several items to which objections could be raised," but noted that it did not reflect a complete Russian diplomatic victory, Rustavi-2 television reported. Saakashvili argued that the UN resolution failed to include the one provision that "Russia wanted most: the withdrawal of the Georgian-backed Abkhaz government from the Kodori Gorge." He further pledged that as Georgian forces now hold "one-third of Abkhaz territory," Tbilisi will expand central control and "continue building roads, building schools, building leisure facilities, building police departments, fortifying the border, and conducting all manner of restoration and construction works there." RG

The Georgian parliament voted on October 13 to adopt a new law increasing the overall sizes of its armed force from 26,000 officers and men to 28,000 in 2007, ITAR-TASS reported. The move to formally increase the size of the military follows the announcement last month of a higher level of Georgian relations with NATO in a new "Intensified Dialogue," and the signing of a new $40 million U.S. military assistance program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, 2006). RG

Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met with Jiang Enzhu, head of a delegation from China's Foreign Affairs Committee, in Astana on October 13 in preparation for Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's scheduled visit to China in December, Xinhua reported. Toqaev said that when Nazarbaev visits, he will sign documents "confirming the strategic partnership between our two countries," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Toqaev noted that the documents will include a declaration on international cooperation and documents relating to the Chinese-Kazakh border. DK

President Nazarbaev told a meeting of Kazakhstan's Academy of Sciences in Almaty on October 13 that funding for science will increase 25-fold to 350 billion tenges ($2.83 billion), or 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), by 2012, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nazarbaev stressed that no country, including the United States, allocates so much funding for science. Nazarbaev said that a 2007-12 science-development program will be put into effect, Interfax reported. "We expect the share of scientific and scientific-innovative services in the GDP structure to grow to 1.7 percent by 2016, as compared with today's approximately 0.9 percent," Nazarbaev said. DK

Kazakhstan registered 1,111 new HIV cases in January-August, as compared with 578 in the same period of 2005, Interfax reported on October 13, citing data from Kazakhstan's State Statistics Agency. The number of new AIDS cases rose year-on-year from 68 to 86. Kazakhstan had 5,440 officially registered HIV cases at the end of 2005, and had 6,943 cases as of October 1, including 426 cases of AIDS. DK

Mukhtar Ablyazov, head of Kazakhstan's TuranAlem Bank, told Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev in Bishkek on October 14 that TuranAlem plans to invest $100 million a year in the Kyrgyz economy, news agency reported. Ablyazov called the bank's reasons for the planned investment "objective," reported. "Today in Kyrgyzstan, there are good conditions for doing business," Ablyazov said. "Your legislation is objectively among the best, and there are fewer obstacles than in other countries." Bakiev promised that the Kyrgyz government will support foreign investors who create jobs and launch new enterprises. DK

Pierre Morel, EU special representative for Central Asia, met with President Bakiev in Bishkek on October 13 to discuss Kyrgyz-EU relations, Kabar reported. "To be frank, we would like to use the EU's economic, industrial, and intellectual potential for the development of the Kyrgyz economy," Bakiev commented. Morel also met with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov and opposition member of parliament Omurbek Tekebaev, and Kabar reported. Tekebaev's Ata-Meken Party noted that Morel "supported the initiative to implement constitutional reform as soon as possible and demolish the authoritarian system established in Kyrgyzstan," reported. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on October 13 that officials who fail to ensure a good cotton harvest will face dismissal, Turkmen television reported. "We will see what to do with those who are failing in their cotton harvest tasks and will remove some of them right after the [Turkmen Independence Day] celebrations [set for October 27]," Niyazov said. He also promised that ministers will receive Mercedes and four-wheel-drive vehicles. DK

President Islam Karimov has replaced Andijon province Governor Saidullo Begaliev with Ahmadjon Usmonov, previously the head of the Interior Ministry department in Namangan province, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on October 15. The move came during a visit to Andijon province by Karimov. Begaliev's removal was the result of his alleged failure to use federal funds to improve the lives of Andijon residents, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. Political observer Toshpulat Yuldoshev told RFE/RL that the appointment of an Interior Ministry official as Andijon governor fits in with a countrywide policy of tightening control in the wake of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. DK

The Russian Economic Development Ministry has ordered local authorities to reduce imports from Belarus over alleged restrictions on Russian exports in the Belarusian market, Belapan reported on October 13, quoting State Duma Deputy Anatoly Lokot. Lokot, who is from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, was speaking at a meeting of representatives of the Russia-Belarus Union State Parliamentary Assembly held in Rostov-na-Donu on October 12. According to Lokot, the ministry made its order in a classified letter to Russia's regional administrations. The Russian deputy also revealed why Russia and Belarus failed to agree on a draft union state constitution discussed in January. Lokot said Moscow wanted the union state to be government by one president while Minsk wanted it to be ruled by a state council including both presidents. JM

Pavel Krasouski, an activist of the unregistered opposition organization Youth Front, was released after spending 10 days in a detention center on October 15, Belapan reported, quoting Krasouski's lawyer Pavel Sapelka. "Investigators failed to find any evidence of Pavel's guilt and he was released in connection with the expiry of the detention period. However, he will still be under investigation," Sapelka said. The 23-year-old Krasouski was charged with involvement in two blasts in 2005 and a rape and two murders in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2006). JM

A group of Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) veterans and several thousand sympathizers took to the streets in Kyiv on October 14 to mark the 64th anniversary of the founding of the UPA and demand official recognition as war combatants for UPA fighters, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The UPA was a nationalist guerilla force that fought the Nazis as well as Soviet and Polish troops during World War II and immediately after it. Several thousand policemen guarded the rally in Kyiv against left-wing demonstrators who unsuccessfully tried to break through police barriers and provoke clashes. President Viktor Yushchenko said the same day that he has signed a decree on "restoring historical justice" to UPA veterans, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "As a president, I do not define the [combatant] status. But I may stimulate the government and parliament to consider this issue and take the decision. This is the purpose of the decree I signed today in the morning," Yushchenko told journalists. JM

A spokesman for the Serbian government said on October 15 that it is unlikely that the European Union will restart premembership talks with Belgrade until war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic is captured, B92 reported the same day. "It is a pity that EU talks won't be continued at this time, since that would motivate us to finalize cooperation with The Hague as soon as possible," Srdjan Djuric, head of the government's Media Office, said. "Regardless of that, the Serbian government will continue to do all it can to meet this condition, since it is in Serbia's best interest," Djuric added. During a visit to Italy last week, Serbian President Boris Tadic pushed for resumption of talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, which were suspended in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2006). Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is scheduled to meet with EU officials in Luxembourg on October 16 to present Belgrade's action plan to capture Mladic. BW

On October 13, Serbian President Tadic asked for a postponement in a final-status decision for Kosova until after Serbia holds general elections, Reuters reported the same day. Tadic made his request in Helsinki, Finland, after meeting with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. "It is much better to have elections in Serbia before the agreement. I'm not asking to delay the process, I'm asking for rationality," Tadic said. Many analysts are concerned that if Kosova is granted independence before Serbia holds elections -- most likely in December -- then nationalist parties could dominate the vote. UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari is expected to present his final-status plan for Kosova in November, with plans for a final agreement by the end of the year. But Ahtisaari said on October 3 that the possibility of Serbian parliamentary elections in December could delay a decision on Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 5, 2006). BW

In comments published on October 15, Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said that the main obstacles to Serbia's development are political, not economic, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "I don't see a single economic hurdle in the way of accelerated development," Dinkic said in comments reported by the monthly "Biznis." "Major obstacles however exist in the areas of domestic and international policies, and if we overcome these and maintain the unity of the democratic forces, Serbia will progress fast after the Kosovo status solution," he added. Dinkic said Serbia's most pressing economic problem is unemployment. "One of the possible ways to increase employment is the National Investment Plan, which seeks to slash current unemployment figures by half through investment in industrial parks," he said. BW

The bodies of 29 Serbian civilians killed during the 1998-99 war in Kosova were buried in Belgrade on October 14, AP reported the same day. The bodies, including those of women and children, were discovered in a mass grave in Kosova and identified by DNA testing. UN authorities handed their remains over to relatives on October 13. They were allegedly executed by ethnic Albanian separatists during the war. A few hundred people, including relatives of the dead and those of others missing from the conflict, attended the funeral, held at a cemetery on the outskirts of Belgrade. BW

Moldovan parliament speaker Marian Lupu said on October 15 that Chisinau would not recognize an independence referendum in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia, Moldpres reported the same day. Speaking at a meeting of the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly in Chisinau, Lupu said Moldova "will not admit the possibility of legal consequences if an eventual plebiscite is held in South Ossetia." The GUAM regional organization includes Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity announced on September 11 plans to hold a referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 2006). Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region held a widely unrecognized referendum on independence in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). BW

Against the backdrop of the recent crisis between Georgia and Russia, a deeper trend has emerged in the South Caucasus, which is contributing to an even deeper degree of insecurity. Defined by a significant military buildup and an increasingly worrisome level of militant rhetoric, it is this trend that poses the most serious threat to stability in the region and may even spark a sudden resumption of hostilities.

Although the motives and modalities of this military buildup differ among Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, there are two main underlying elements common to each of these three states. First, the share of defense-related expenditures has steadily increased in recent years, with each country devoting an ever-larger share of their limited revenues and resources to defense spending.

Such a consistent rise in defense spending is particularly challenging to the development of these countries as their reforms remain incomplete and inconclusive. But this trend is most significant over the longer term, as it constrains spending in other areas of the state budget and limits investment in these countries' critical health, education, and social-services sectors.

The increase in defense spending has been most profound in Georgia, where it increased by some 143 percent in 2005, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This represents the single largest increase in the world. The $146 million defense budget for 2005 increased further this year, with more than $218 million allocated in 2006.

Although Georgia has seen the largest proportional surge in defense spending, neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia have also been locked on a similar trajectory. Based largely on the expected windfall from its energy sector, Azerbaijan increased its defense budget to some $700 million in 2006, with the stated objective of exceeding $1 billion next year.

For Azerbaijan, this drastic increase in defense spending may, however, have unintended consequences. Specifically, there is a lack of certainty that this substantial budgetary increase will be soundly invested in developing a modern and more capable of armed forces, or used for the required acquisition of hardware and funding of training programs. Given the decade of corruption and inherently opaque nature of the Azerbaijani defense sector, the prospects for such a prudent use of these increased funds may be low, while the temptation to divert them into the traditional networks of corruption and patronage within the Defense Ministry may be too great to resist. Thus, in the Azerbaijani case, the funding rise may actually spark resentment and fuel a backlash by the officer corps, triggered by the misuse of the new-found wealth.

A similar, but albeit less substantial, increase in defense spending has also been under way in Armenia and is set to increase by about 22 percent in 2007, to some $212 million. Although the increase in the Armenian military budget is officially justified by the country's record of economic growth, it actually stems from the perceived need to match the Azerbaijani increase and to prepare for the almost certain erosion of Armenia's current military dominance in the region.

For Armenia, the smallest of the three states in the region, it is evident that its military superiority is demonstrably temporary. Although Armenia's armed forces are widely held to be among the most professional and combat-ready within the former Soviet Union, it is naturally constrained by the inherent limitations of its small size and limited resources.

The second shared trait in this trend is the escalation of militant rhetoric and the increasingly common language of threats and bellicose posturing. In Georgia, for example, the increased defense spending has traditionally been linked to the country's strategic priority of closer integration into Western security institutions, reflected by the recent deepening of ties with the NATO alliance in a new "Intensified Dialogue." But recent developments in Georgia have only compounded concerns over a newly assertive and increasingly confrontational Georgian policy toward the unresolved conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Similarly, there is a worry that Tbilisi may become dangerously overconfident because of its recent reestablishment of central control over a key part of the Kodori Gorge and due to its newly enhanced position closer to NATO. And in light of the crisis with Russia over the past several weeks, there is concern that Georgia may be tempted to use U.S. military training and equipment to "solve" the Abkhaz and South Ossetian questions by force.

In Azerbaijan, this tendency toward threats and militant rhetoric has tended to complicate the ongoing OSCE mediation effort seeking to negotiate a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. But more disturbingly, it has also led to an atmosphere of domestic militancy that has hardened the political parameters to such a degree that Azerbaijani society is prepared for nothing less than either complete diplomatic success or a conclusive military victory over Armenia. This also makes any chance for garnering a compromise on Nagorno-Karabakh both unlikely and politically untenable.

Such a reliance on militant posturing and nationalist rhetoric in Azerbaijan has also led to a similar reaction in Armenia, where militancy has tended to replace moderation as the common currency of the future of Armenian-Azerbaijan relations. And as the military reality of the region seems likely to shift within the coming decade, the real danger is that the military buildup in the region may spark a return to the conflict of the 1990s.

Meshrano Jirga (Council of Elders) head Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, who announced he was resigning his post on October 12 to protest the presence of "undesirable people" in senior government posts, attended a meeting of the upper chamber on October 16 at which lawmakers discussed his resignation, the official Bakhtar Afghan News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 2006). The Meshrano Jirga convened under the leadership of first deputy head Sayyed Hamid Gailani. Mojaddedi participated in the session at the request of other senators, but he restated his determination to surrender his seat in the chamber unless the government removes objectionable individuals from their posts. AT

The head of the Afghan government's Anticorruption Commission, Zabihullah Esmati, rejected allegations by Mojaddedi that he is a former communist and "incompetent manager" as "baseless," Pajhwak Afghan News reported on October 13. Esmati was the only individual Mojaddedi identified by name when announcing his plans to step down over the presence of "undesirable" people in senior posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13, 2006). Esmati told a news conference in Kabul that he has never been a member of any political group. "Mojaddedi was opposed to my appointment because I dismissed his two followers, who were unqualified for the slots to which they were appointed," Esmati countered. Mojaddedi's spokesman Sayyed Sharif Yusofi responded that Esmati in fact held a senior position under one of the communist regimes that ruled Afghanistan from 1978 through 1992. A number of Mojaddedi's family members were killed under the communist leadership. AT

Gabriele Torsello and his Afghan assistant were abducted from a bus traveling from Helmand to Kandahar Province on October 15, international news agencies reported. Helmand security commander Nabi Jan Mullahkhayl said on October 15 that he has information that Torsello has been "kidnapped in Kandahar by the Taliban," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Mullahkhayl said negotiations are under way to secure the journalist's release," but he added that his side "will not hold talks with the Taliban." Speaking for the Taliban, Mohammad Yusof told AIP that the "Taliban have not kidnapped Torsello," adding, "We took him to some areas, including Musa Qala'. He filmed the Taliban. He had good memories of the Taliban." Mohammad Yusof claimed "robbers" must have kidnapped Torsello and his colleague. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- suggested that Torsello's kidnapping is the "work of the government police." AT

An ambush by suspected Taliban insurgents killed two Canadian soldiers and wounded two others in Kandahar Province on October 14, CTV reported. The attack occurred some 25 kilometers west of Kandahar city, in the same vicinity where six other Canadians have been killed recently. The soldiers were helping build a road when they were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. AT

Guardians Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodai announced on October 14 that three people signed up twice as candidates for the Assembly of Experts elections in mid-December, so the actual number of prospective candidates is 492, state television reported. An initial examination of credentials suggests that 60 people are in no way educationally or professionally qualified to be candidates, Kadkhodai added. Individuals whose religious learning is questioned will have the opportunity to take a written exam on October 27, and those who pass the test will be invited for interviews, he said. Kadkhodai explained that one need not be a cleric to stand in the election, as long as the candidate attains the desired level of ijtihad (the ability to interpret Islamic law). Turning to the race itself, Kadkhodai said that campaigning can begin once the names of candidates are published, and candidates who are Friday prayer leaders cannot lead official congregations in the two weeks immediately prior to the election date of December 15. BS

Prospective candidates for the municipal-council elections in Iran may begin registering on October 16, the Interior Ministry Election Headquarters announced on October 14, state television reported. Candidates in cities with populations of less than 1 million must have at least high-school diplomas or its equivalent, and candidates in cities with populations over 1 million must have further educational qualifications. BS

When registration closed on October 13, 246 people had signed up as candidates in four parliamentary by-elections in Iran slated for December 15, ILNA reported on October 15. The by-elections will be held for two seats in Tehran, one in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, and one in the southeastern city of Bam. BS

The Norwegian oil company Statoil announced on October 13 that it will pay a $21 million fine for violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act after it bribed an Iranian official and failed to properly account for the payment in its bookkeeping, Radio Farda reported. The statement acknowledged payment of bribes to an Iranian official in 2002 and 2003 so he would help the company win contracts for the development of three phases of the South Pars gas field. Statoil will pay fines of $10.5 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and $10.5 million to the U.S. Justice Department, but $3 million in fines paid to the Norwegian government will be subtracted from the total. The case relates to Statoil's $15.2 million deal with Horton Investments, a London-based consulting company associated with Mehdi Hashemi, the managing director of the Organization for Optimization of Energy Consumption, which is a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company. Hashemi is the son of former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 22 and 29, October 6, 13, and 27, and November 10, 2003, and 5 July 2004). BS

Hesam Khoshnevis, who heads an Iranian delegation to Lebanon, announced in Beirut on October 13 that Iran will build 60 schools in the southern suburbs of Beirut and another 40 in the Bekaa Valley, IRNA reported. Those are two areas predominantly inhabited by Shi'ite Muslims and controlled by Hizballah. Khoshnevis added that Iran will equip the schools. Khoshnevis went on to say that five hospitals in southern Beirut, four in the Bekaa, and 10 more in the south are being built by Iran. Iran is rebuilding mosques, Husseiniehs (Shi'ite religious centers), and other religious structures in Beirut, the Bekaa, and the south, as well as roads and bridges. The total cost, Khoshnevis said, will be $35 million-$50 million. In Tehran on October 13, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed Lebanese affairs in his Friday Prayers sermon, state radio reported. He said the United States suffered a defeat in the July-August conflict between Israel and Hizballah. Khamenei said the conflict teaches a lesson: "Nations have once again seen and experienced that the path of victory and liberation is only in resistance against the bullies, the aggressors and the despots." Retaliation for the alleged defeat in this conflict will include the creation of ethnic strife, Khamenei warned. BS

The Iranian legislature has begun serious debate over a number of issues related to clothing, "Etemad" reported on October 12. The topics range from a national dress code to mandatory uniforms in the workplace to the protection of the domestic clothing industry. "The parliament's view is that fashion and clothing graduates and manufacturers and the private sector should embark on the design and production of varied clothes themselves with support from the government in the form of subsidies," legislator Fatemeh Alia told "Etemad. This should be based on the country's Islamic and ethnic identity, she added. Alia said the presence of ethnic groups will contribute to diversity and people can choose for themselves. Laleh Eftekhari, a representative from Tehran, also stressed that homogeneity is not being considered. The legislature passed two articles of a bill relating to fashion and clothing on October 10, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported the next day. One article is aimed at discouraging people from adopting foreign fashions that are incompatible with Iran's national and Islamic culture and encouraging them to buy locally produced clothes that are based on domestic patterns. Various ministries, state radio and television, and designers and manufacturers' guilds will form a committee to consider ways to accomplish that task. BS

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein claimed in an open letter to the Iraqi people that "victory is at hand" in the fight against multinational forces, Reuters reported on October 16. The news agency said it obtained a copy of the letter from Hussein's attorney, Khalil al-Dulaymi. "Victory is at hand, but don't forget that your near-term goal is confined to liberating your country from the forces of occupation," Hussein says in the letter. He urges Sunni Arabs fighting in the insurgency to follow his example and forgive Iraqi informants who provided the United States with information on the whereabouts of Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay. The two men were killed in a shoot-out in Mosul in 2003. The informant(s), thought to be a relative of Hussein, was awarded $30 million by the United States for the information and was reportedly granted asylum in a third country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 23, 2003). "I call on you to apply justice in your jihad and not be drawn to recklessness and urge you to be forgiving rather than tough with those who have lost the path," he adds. KR

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council announced the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in an October 15 video statement on the Internet. The speaker in the video, identified as the spokesman for the Islamic state's information ministry, reads a statement that says it became necessary to declare an Islamic state after the Kurds established a region in the north and the Shi'a won approval for federalism in the south. The Islamic state encompasses the governorates of Baghdad, Al-Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah Al-Din, Ninawah, and parts of Babil and Wasit, the statement claims. "We are imposing our control over many areas, which have an area equal to the size of the first state of Medina. The enemies have no control over these areas. The mujahedin have established the rule of Shari'a [law] and religion in these areas at the demand and persistence of the Sunnis themselves," it further claims. It also vows the "strongest, hardest, and most harmful unlimited response" against attempts to destroy the new state. KR

The Mujahedin Shura Council calls on Iraqi mujahedin, clergymen, chieftains, and Sunni Arabs to pledge allegiance to its newly formed Islamic state and its new leader, identified as Sheikh Abu Umar al-Baghdadi in the October 15 Internet video. The statement also seeks the support of Sunnis outside Iraq and vowed to provide "expertise" to Sunnis in neighboring states in an apparent reference to those wishing to set up their own Islamic state in countries neighboring Iraq. Meanwhile, Isam al-Rawi, a member of the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association, dismissed the 15 October statement. Al-Rawi told Al-Jazeera television in a same-day interview that the declaration seeks to divide Iraq, while the association supports one, united state. He added that the Mujahedin Shura Council is not qualified to make such a declaration, as it is only one of a number of "resistance groups" operating inside Iraq. Furthermore, the council represents a small portion of the Arab Sunni community. "Therefore it is not authorized and it has no right to speak on behalf of millions of Sunni Arabs," he said. Al-Rawi added that the association does not know Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and cannot trust that he is qualified to lead the Sunni Arab community. KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reiterated his intention to rein in militias in an October 15 press statement as sectarian killings continued unabated across the country, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Maliki said that militias cannot serve as a substitute for government-sanctioned security forces. According to media reports, some 51 bodies were found in Baghdad during the preceding 48 hours ending on October 16, while another 26 bodies were found in Balad, north of the capital. The dead appeared to be victims of revenge killings, bearing signs of torture and gunshot wounds, and some of the victims were handcuffed and blindfolded. KR

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani told reporters on October 13 that he has dismissed 3,000 ministry personnel on charges of corruption and human rights violations, Western media reported on October 14. Calling the need to reform the ministry "urgent," al-Bulani said, "All the senior employees of the Interior Ministry are in a cycle of change," "The New York Times" reported. Between 300 and 600 cases have been referred to the courts, he added. Al-Bulani said he is also pushing for a law to ban ministry personnel from belonging to a political party. He maintained, however, that the majority of ministry personnel are clean, and contended that sectarian violence is the work of Facilities Protection Service (FPS) personnel. "Whenever we capture someone, we rarely find anyone is an employee of the government ministries," but rather "they've turned out to be mostly from the FPS with very few individual, actual incidents involving anyone from the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense," "The Washington Post" quoted him as saying. FPS personnel wear uniforms similar to those of the police, the daily noted. KR

Interior Minister al-Bulani also told reporters on October 13 that Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, is a rogue militia, "The Washington Post" reported on October 14. Al-Bulani said the Al-Mahdi Army, along with Sunni Arab insurgents, operates "outside the political body and structure," adding, "We do not approve of the existence of these militias." He said that peshmerga forces from the two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, as well as the former armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as the Badr Brigades, are among those forces that have been lawfully integrated into the Iraqi state security forces. Al-Sadr issued a statement on October 13 saying he will disown any member of the militia found guilty of assaulting Iraqis. His spokesman, Hazim al-A'raji, told Al-Jazeera television in a same-day interview that the statement was not an admission that the militia is linked to sectarian attacks. KR