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Newsline - October 24, 2006

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on October 23 that Russia's use of energy supplies to pursue its own agenda is dangerous for the EU, which must act to end its dependence on Russian oil and gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). He argued that "this pressure from Russia is causing a lot of anxiety, and that is why the European Union should not stop trying to diversify its energy supplies, whether in terms of [using] other [oil and gas] fields or supply routes. I think not doing so would be a big mistake. Such mistakes are made once in a century. And I think such a mistake would be fatal." Topolanek believes that "new nuclear technologies are the future of Europe. I was in Finland when they decided to build a new nuclear reactor. This was the right decision and it was tied to lowering Finland's energy dependence and raising the diversification of its energy supplies." In the wake of the recent EU-Russia informal summit in Lahti, Finland, the daily "Novye izvestia" wrote on October 23 that "gas has become more dangerous than communism" as a factor in relations. "Vedomosti" argued that "[President Vladimir] Putin is not listening to the EU," which wants Russia to ratify the Energy Charter it signed in 1994. "Kommersant" commented that "another...summit has come to nothing." The daily also noted that the bulldozer tactics that have served Putin so well at home have been his undoing abroad. PM

Yelena Telegina, who is a member of the board of the Association of Russian Crude Oil Exporters and former board chairwoman of Rosneft, told RFE/RL in Prague on October 23 that Russia will remain a reliable energy supplier to Europe. She argued that Europe needs Russian energy and hopes that "the interests of businesses and the interests of consumers will prevail over political disagreements." She said that the Ukrainian gas crisis at the start of 2006 shows the need for "relations between Russia and former Soviet countries [to be] regulated." Telegina argued that "low energy prices between former Soviet countries...helped these republics get back on their feet [after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and] develop their national economies. Russian citizens paid the price for these former Soviet republics to be able to develop independently." Asked whether Gazprom has enough gas to meet its commitments at home and abroad, she replied that "this is a serious problem. It was discussed last week by the government and [President Putin]. It is indeed a very acute problem for Russia, because we need more gas to produce electricity, and we have many exports contracts with Western Europe that we must respect. The decision was taken to develop exports and supply the Russian market with alternative energy resources, such as atomic energy and coal. So from the point of view of energy security, Europe need not worry. Russia is ready to fulfill its obligations." PM

Local officials of the Emergency Situations Ministry said near Chelyabinsk on October 24 that an oil pipeline has burst and spilled crude over 5,500 square meters, RIA Novosti reported. A team of 141 workers and 41 vehicle has managed to contain the spill, which is expected to be cleaned up by October 28. PM

As part of a campaign to promote his memoirs, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) told the weekly "Der Spiegel" on October 23 that his decision after leaving office in 2005 to head the stockholders' oversight body for the projected Russo-German North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) was his right as a private citizen and in Germany's interest, reported. "When seen in this light, I would in fact have expected a great deal of praise. But that was apparently expecting too much," he added. When asked whether it was proper for him as a Social Democrat to be a top official of a company based in a Swiss "tax haven," Schroeder replied that he had "nothing to do with choosing the location." The interviewers reminded him of his comment that President Putin is an "impeccable democrat," to which Schroeder replied that his opinion has not changed. He stressed that Russia has come a long way in developing democratic institutions. Schroeder noted that postwar Germany "had to learn democracy and needed outside help to do so." Matthias Warnig, who heads Dresdner Bank's operations in Russia, is chief executive of the NEGP. He worked for the former East Germany's Stasi secret police in Dresden at the same time in the 1980s that Putin was a young KGB officer there, although Warnig denies having known Putin then. Currently, the SPD-run German Foreign Ministry seeks to promote German and EU ties to Russia on the basis of an expanding network of interrelationships in the run-up to the German EU presidency in the first half of 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24 and October 20, 2006). PM

A quip by President Putin at the October 20 EU-Russia summit in Lahti, to the effect that "mafia" is an Italian term and not a Russian one, led to angry statements in Rome offices and in the media on October 23, dpa reported. Italian Foreign Ministry official Gianni Vernetti said that Putin's comment "was an incredible remark. Instead of speaking nonsense, Putin should explain what has happened with the murder of [critical journalist] Anna Politkovskaya." Prime Minister Romano Prodi was reportedly "speechless" when Putin made the remark in Lahti, but in Rome his staff sought to play down the incident, saying the quip was intended as ironic. But Angelo Bonelli of the Green Party, which is a member of Prodi's center-left ruling coalition, said that "Italy should respond to the serious remarks made by...Putin." The Russian leader is often criticized in much of the West for the poor state of Russian democracy. His "mafia" statement and his comments about corruption in Spanish municipalities in Lahti recalled to many observers Soviet rebuttals of U.S. criticism of Soviet human rights practices by referring to U.S. racial inequalities. PM

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told "Novaya gazeta," for which the slain journalist Politkovskaya wrote, on her recent visit to Moscow that U.S. officials insist that Russia must investigate the numerous killings of journalists there over the past six years, reported on October 23 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). Rice, who is an expert on Russian affairs, called "Novaya gazeta" "one of the best independent voices" in that country. She said that Russia still has independent print media and some independent radio, but "there is not much left of independent television in Russia." Rice added that the fate of journalists there is a "major concern." Politkovskaya was the 13th Russian journalist believed to have been slain by hired killers since 2000. Rice told the daily's staff that "you are not alone in your battle." She argued that "an independent press plays a very important role when it comes to fighting corruption, questioning government policies, or keeping the government informed about the people's concerns. I'd like to say that we support your work and hope you will continue it, because we understand the role played by independent media in Russia." She stressed that "democracy cannot function without independent [investigative] journalists." On October 24, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and Deutsche Welle quoted unnamed members of "Novaya gazeta's" staff as saying that prosecutors have opened a criminal case against an unnamed individual in the Politkovskaya case but did not elaborate. PM

European External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told students at Moscow's State Institute for International Affairs on October 23 that Brussels is concerned that Russia is failing to implement "shared European values," Reuters reported. Referring to the recent murder of critical journalist Politkovskaya, Ferrero-Waldner said that Politkovskaya was "for many in Europe a model of courageous journalistic investigation in the public interest. [Her killing] has shocked us" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16 and 23, 2006). The Austrian diplomat argued that "guarantees of media freedom are essential for a healthy society. Independent media play a vital role in holding the executive and others to account.... We hope the investigation into the murder of this fearless and respected person is both thorough and objective and justice will be seen to be done." She also noted that the EU is "really concerned about the escalating tensions" between Georgia and Russia. PM

Irina Khrunova, who is a lawyer for soldier Andrei Rudenko, said in Moscow on October 23 that he is determined to bring to justice his commander, Nasim Nazarov, who "sold" him to an unnamed businessman as a "slave laborer" in August, Reuters reported. While working for the businessman under difficult conditions, Rudenko had a road accident that left him without one leg and all of his teeth, and in a coma for 13 days. Khrunova, who has also represented imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said that she wants prosecutors to charge Nazarov with human trafficking and also to investigate the businessman. At present, Nazarov has been charged only with abusing his position. The issue of hazing in the military has been in the forefront of media attention in 2006, following a particularly gruesome incident at the start of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 29, August 4, and October 13, 2006). PM

The Federal Registration Service announced on October 23 that it will not register the Russian Popular Democratic Union party of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov because the party did not "meet technical requirements," news agencies reported. He charged that the move is politically motivated. He previously announced his intention to run for president in 2008 and has attempted to support a small liberal movement to that end but enjoys little popular support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006). PM

Speaking in Yerevan, the outgoing head of the World Bank's office in Armenia, Roger Robinson, stated on October 23 that Armenian economic growth is "sustainable" even without a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In an interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Robinson noted that he has witnessed a "significant change in the quality of life" in the country over the past five years and said that he believes that economic growth can continue over the next five to 10 years, although noting that it will require deeper "institutional reforms" that would specifically improve governance, tax and customs administration, as well as the overall business environment in Armenia. But he also warned that the dramatic appreciation of the Armenian dram may reflect negatively on the country's "very strong economic performance," and urged more state spending in the key areas of education and health care. According to official statistics, the Armenian economy is projected to continue its expansion, with double-digit growth expected for a sixth consecutive year. Armenia's GDP increased by 12.5 percent during first nine months of this year, although fueled largely by a construction boom in the Armenian capital. Although seemingly contradicting most analysts and experts who see Armenia's economic development contingent on the reopening of its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey, Robinson explained that "it is a given" that the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is a "necessary and good thing to sustain the growth in the future." RG

Armenian senior officials, including President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, met on October 23 in Yerevan with an official delegation from Belarus led by Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo reported. Sidorski noted his government's appreciation of Armenia's support for Belarus, a country largely ostracized by the West for its poor democracy and human rights records and at increasingly odds with the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Armenian government has routinely sided with Russia within the OSCE and other international bodies to vote against resolutions criticizing Lukashenka's intolerance of dissent and reported human rights abuses. In talks between the Armenian premier and his visiting counterpart, the ministers discussed bilateral relations and noted that despite a strong increase in bilateral commerce in recent years, the overall level of trade remains low. RG

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met on October 24 in Paris in the latest round of Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks brokered by the OSCE, ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting of the foreign ministers, which included OSCE Minsk Group co-chair representatives from Russia, France, and the United States, follows an earlier round of talks in Moscow on October 6 and a presidential summit in France this past February. Although there was little substantial progress in the past meetings, this new round of talks seeks to restart the peace process by considering a new set of proposals prepared by the OSCE. The OSCE mediators are hoping for sufficient progress in these talks to allow for a follow-up meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents later this year. The meting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers also follows a rare face-to-face meeting between the two countries' defense ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). RG

Speaking during a press conference in Tbilisi, Georgian opposition New Conservatives (or New Rightists) party leader Davit Gamkrelidze announced on October 23 that the party has decided to "temporarily suspend" its boycott of parliament, Imedi-TV reported. Gamkrelidze explained that despite not receiving a response from a series of questions submitted to the government, New Conservatives (New Rightist) deputies will return to parliamentary sessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2006). But he added that the party will continue to pursue its demands that Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili resign and the killers of Tbilisi banker Sandro Girgvliani be apprehended. Responding to the announcement, Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Kote Gabashvili welcomed the opposition faction's return to parliament. RG

Gia Tsagareishvili, a leading member of the opposition Industrialists group, refused on October 23 to abide by the decision of the opposition New Rightists party to suspend the opposition's boycott of parliament, Imedi-TV reported. Tsagareishvili said that the country's opposition is now divided over the decision to return to parliament and called for "solidarity" among the other opposition parties and factions. But he reiterated that his party does not "intend to go back yet" to attending sessions of parliament. RG

A delegation of Abkhaz officials, led by Abkhaz Parliamentary Speaker Nugzar Ashuba, traveled on October 23 to Moscow to lobby the Russian parliament on formally recognizing Abkhazia as an independent state, ApsnyPress and the Caucasus Press reported. Ashuba is accompanied by Abkhaz Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs Chairman Beslan Butba and will meet with senior Russian lawmakers from the Russian State Duma. The move follows a recent push for Russian recognition by Abkhazia that includes the adoption of a resolution by the Abkhaz parliament to formally seek Moscow's recognition and a new level of associate relations between Abkhazia and Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17 and 19, 2006). RG

Units of the Abkhaz armed forces opened on October 23 three days of military exercises, according to ApsnyPress and the Caucasus Press. The exercises, held at the Agudzera training ground in Abkhazia, involves some 2,000 soldiers simulating a coordinated response to an invasion, with a focus on repelling an amphibious assault along the Abkhaz coast. The exercises are directed by General Anatoly Zaitsev, the chief of the Abkhaz General Staff, and also include the mobilization of a reserve brigade and a one-day live-fire exercise supported by Abkhaz artillery. RG

The Georgian parliament resolved on October 23 to establish a new commission empowered to study Russian "human rights abuses," Imedi-TV reported. The new commission is tasked with collecting information, including personal testimony, regarding Moscow's deportation of Georgian citizens from Russia and violations of human rights in Russia, with a specific focus on the status of Georgians living in Russia. RG

Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, the leader of the Kazakh All-National Social Democratic Party, announced in Astana on October 23 that his party has submitted a formal request to the Kazakh Justice Ministry seeking registration as an official political party, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Although founded only last month, Tuyakbay said the new party has already attained a membership of 127,000 and noted that a tactical alliance with other opposition parties "is quite possible." RG

Leaders of the opposition For Reforms movement announced on October 23 that they are now ready to enter into talks with the Kyrgyz authorities in order to defuse current political tensions with President Kurmanbek Bakiev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. Former parliamentary speaker and current opposition figure Omurbek Tekebaev explained that a new group of opposition leaders has been formed specifically for negotiating with the Kyrgyz government over the issue of constitutional reforms that were promised by Bakiev during his election campaign last year. The For Reforms movement is planning a protest rally in Bishkek on November 2 in order to exert pressure on Bakiev to fulfill this pre-election pledge. The leaders of the movement had recently canceled an earlier round of talks with the president set for October 21, arguing it would be a "fruitless discussion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). RG

Feliks Kulov signed a decree on October 23 establishing a new state program aimed at easing the repatriation of ethnic Kyrgyz living abroad, according to the website. The new repatriation Kairylman (Returnee) program will run through 2008 and is to include measures offering repatriates a temporary legal status that would allow them to work and have access to education and medical care, pending Kyrgyz citizenship. The issue of repatriation is a significant challenge for the country, as a mere 9 percent of the nearly 23,000 ethnic Kyrgyz who returned to Kyrgyzstan between 1991 and 2005 have obtained citizenship, with most having no legal status whatsoever, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. RG

Kyrgyz President Bakiev announced a new set of civil-service reforms at a cabinet meeting in Bishkek on October 23, the Kabar news agency reported. According to the reforms, the number of civil servants and some state workers will be sharply reduced by the end of 2007, with a near complete suspension of the acquisition of cars, offices, and equipment for state officials. The president promised that once the reforms are under way and the necessary reduction of civil service jobs is completed, the remaining state workers and officials will receive wage increases. The implementation of the reforms is to be supervised by Prime Minister Kulov. RG

In a letter posted on the independent Uzbek website, the Uzbek "Initiative Group of Independent Rights Defenders" called on October 23 for the release of jailed opposition businessman Sanjar Umarov, RFE/RL reported. Umarov, the leader of the Sunshine Uzbekistan opposition coalition, was arrested in Tashkent in October 2005 and is serving a prison sentence on charges that the group says are "entirely fabricated." Umarov was sentenced by an Uzbek court in March 2006 to a prison term of 10 and one-half years after being convicted on charges of tax evasion, money laundering, and embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2006). His sentence was subsequently reduced to seven and one-half years. He is reportedly in poor health and is not allowed to receive visitors. RG

Not a single representative of opposition political parties has been included by the authorities in territorial commissions for the local elections scheduled for January 14, 2007, Belapan reported on October 23, quoting Anatol Paulau from the opposition United Civic Party. Paulau said the opposition proposed more than 100 people for nearly 1,600 territorial commissions. "We regard the denial of membership to each of them as evidence confirming the common opinion that there will be no real elections," Paulau noted. JM

Human rights defender Katsyaryna Sadouskaya on October 23 was sentenced in Minsk's Leninski District Court to two years in prison, Belapan reported. The 60-year-old woman was found guilty of an insult against the president, a threat against a judge, and an insult against a judge. In her last statement, she described her trial as political. The court reportedly found that Sadouskaya, who is 60 years old, planned to demand a mental examination of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Sadouskaya was also ordered to pay 4 million rubles ($1,800) in compensation to Judge Nadzeya Chmara, who had been allegedly threatened and insulted. Judge Chmara claimed that she had received letters containing threats, and that someone had left an insulting message on her answering machine. She insisted that Sadouskaya had been involved in those actions but reportedly did not produce any evidence. JM

The European Council on October 23 decided to add four names to the EU's list of Belarusian officials subject to a visa ban and an assets freeze in connection with what Brussels see as their crackdown on civil society and opposition activists in the country, Belapan reported. The people added to the list are Alyaksey Rybakou, a judge of Minsk's Maskouski District Court who sentenced former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin to 5 1/2 years in prison in July; Syarhey Bortnik, the public prosecutor at the trial; Leanid Yasinovich, a judge of Minsk's Tsentralny District Court who gave prison sentences to four independent election observation activists in August; and Andrey Mihun, the public prosecutor at the trial. Now there are 37 Belarusian officials on the EU travel-ban list, headed by President Lukashenka. JM

Justice Minister Roman Zvarych from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc said on October 23 that President Viktor Yuschenko's speech at the Our Ukraine People's Union party congress last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006) made him believe that the bloc might decide to resume its talks on forming a ruling coalition with the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, Ukrainian media reported. "From what I heard [from the president], I realized that he doesn't rule out the possibility to find points of mutual understanding with the political forces of the 'anticrisis coalition.' Consequently, I think these decisions might occur this week," Zvarych said. On the other hand, Raisa Bohatyryova from the Party of Regions told journalists the same day that the ongoing "process of crystallization and purification of [Our Ukraine's] political platform" may lead to renewed coalition talks between Our Ukraine and the ruling parties. "We may be seeing the beginning of a new political plan of the Ukrainian president aimed at finding a stable competitive force rather than an opposition," Bohatyryova added. The Our Ukraine People's Union is expected next month to hold a second round of its last week's congress to elect new leaders and revise its statute. JM

Aleksandar Simic, an advisor to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said on October 23 that the Contact Group is divided over a final settlement for Kosova, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. The Contact Group, comprising Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States, met in Vienna with UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari on October 21. "It is now sufficiently clear the Contact Group does not entirely agree either regarding the deadlines or the ways to solve the problem," Simic said. "However, this does not mean they cannot reach a common position over time," he added. The Belgrade daily "Blic," citing unidentified officials, said a majority of Contact Group members favor independence. "Blic" quoted an anonymous official with knowledge of the Vienna talks as saying that "the Contact Group remained firm in its stance that Kosovo should receive some form of independence, modalities were discussed, and the stance of Russia was taken into consideration." BW

The Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) on October 23 called on its supporters to back the country's new constitution, AP reported the same day. The endorsement came despite claims by the constitution's authors that the new basic law would represent a final break with deceased SPS leader and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In a statement, the SPS said its supporters should vote for the constitution in the October 28-29 referendum because it affirms that Kosova is part of Serbia. Voters should "confirm once again...the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. Adopting the new constitution is therefore in the fundamental interests of the state," the SPS statement said. BW

Serbian media reported on October 23 that election officials sent a voting card to Milosevic despite the fact that the former president died earlier this year, Reuters and the BBC World Service reported the same day. The invitation to vote in the October 28-29 referendum, which was published in the daily "Press," contained information about the opening hours of the nearest polling station. Milosevic died on March 11 while in custody at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2006). BW

The trial of 11 defendants in Montenegro's deadliest ever train crash formally opened on October 23, AP reported the same day. However, the presiding judge adjourned the proceedings for a week after two of the accused failed to show up in court. The January 23 accident near the village of Bioce outside Podgorica cost the lives of 47 passengers and injured more than 200 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2006). The engine driver, Slobodan Drobnjak, faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. Railway officials said he failed to lock the train's brakes, which caused it to speed up uncontrollably and plunge into a river canyon. The remaining 10 defendants -- all railroad employees -- face up to three years in prison for "endangering human life and property on a large scale." BW

Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said on October 23 that Washington supports Macedonia's efforts to join NATO, Makfax and AP reported the same day. "We support your aspirations and we share your values," DiCarlo told reporters in Skopje after meeting with Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki. "We are working very closely with Macedonia to make the needed reforms and we want to make this country the strongest candidate for joining NATO," DiCarlo added. DiCarlo, who also met with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and other government officials, urged Macedonia to continue reforming its police and judiciary, to intensify its fight against corruption, and to protect religious freedoms. BW

Having failed to stop militants' infiltrating into neighboring Afghanistan by military means, the Pakistani government in September opted for a deal with locals in the region along their mutual border. Islamabad has hailed its peace agreement with tribal elders and others in North Waziristan as a model for other regions along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Frustrated at the inability of an estimated 80,000 regular military troops to bring a traditionally semi-independent region under control, Islamabad hammered out a deal in June with one of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The Tribal Areas include seven agencies and four tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, specifically the North West Frontier Province. The inhabitants of these regions are predominately Pashtuns, the ethnic group that dominates the adjacent region on the Afghan side of the border.

Under the Pakistani Constitution, acts of the national parliament are nonbinding in the Tribal Areas unless the president declares otherwise. But the president has discretionary power to order all or part of those areas to be brought under direct federal control -- provided that local views, reflected in a traditional Pashtun tribal council (jirga), are taken into account.

The introduction of high numbers of regular Pakistani military forces to North Waziristan and other Tribal Areas emerged as part of President Pervez Musharraf's counterterrorism campaign following the fall of Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001.

The Taliban regime was supported politically and militarily by Islamabad, while it enjoyed ideological and ethnic support in the Tribal Areas. In fact, much of the Taliban leadership grew up in refugee camps in the Tribal Areas; they also received their religious, ideological, and military training in seminaries and affiliated facilities operating in the areas.

Almost from the outset of the post-Taliban insurgency that began in 2002-03, Kabul has accused Islamabad of supporting the insurgents, or at least of failing to prevent their activities inside Pakistan. Much of the Afghan criticism was focused on the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) -- which includes the Tribal Areas -- and Baluchistan Province.

Central military operations in the Tribal Areas have been unpopular from the start within the Pakistani Army -- Musharraf's primary support base.

Musharraf's introduction of troops to the Tribal Areas was largely a response to criticism by Afghanistan along with the United States and other countries with stakes in Afghanistan. Critics urged Pakistan to do more to control its porous border with Afghanistan. Central military operations in the Tribal Areas have been unpopular from the start within the Pakistani Army -- Musharraf's primary support base. A military trained to confront India found itself engaged -- and losing soldiers -- in an unpopular war against locals with whom they had few quarrels. Moreover, elements within the Pakistani military regarded a counterbalance to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration -- like the neo-Taliban, with tacit Pakistani help -- as a strategic asset.

Despite the military presence, Pakistan's indigenous Taliban sympathizers began to exercise greater control over aspects of daily life in Tribal Areas, including North Waziristan.

The peace agreement signed on September 5 was a commitment by Fakhr-e-Alam Irfan, the political agent in North Waziristan and a representative of the North West Frontier Province governor, on one side, and "tribal elders,... local mujahedin, seminary students" described as "taliban," and tribal ulama on the other. Seven North Waziristan "locals" initially signed the agreement but two more have added their support. Later versions of the peace deal include the names of close to 50 representatives of North Waziristan.

Under the agreement, the North Waziristan side should "ensure" that they will not set up any "parallel administration" in the region, meddle in neighboring districts, or allow the crossing of the border with Afghanistan "for any kind of militancy." Trade, business, and meeting with family across the border can "continue in accordance with the traditions and the prevailing laws." The deal also states that "foreigners present in North Waziristan will leave Pakistan," although it also allows for those who cannot leave "because of some compulsion...[to] respect the prevailing laws and the agreement and...remain peaceful."

For its part, the Pakistani government should ensure that local levies -- enlisted or conscripted men, known as "khasadar" -- can resume their duties at checkpoints. There should also be "no ban on arms according to the tribal customs," although that "restriction would continue for the heavy arms."

Pursuant to the agreement, an unidentified local neo-Taliban spokesman said that movement has opened two offices in North Waziristan to "implement the accord, to prevent disorder, and [to take action against criminals, including masked men involved in acts of violence." An October 11 report in the Islamabad-based daily "The Nation" suggested that locals are "approaching the Taliban offices for resolution of their disputes or complaints." The paper warned that the "trend is reducing dependence of the tribesmen on political administration" of North Waziristan.

Six weeks after the peace agreement took effect, opinions differ sharply on its effectiveness.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently claimed that cross-border infiltration between North Waziristan and Afghanistan has been "reduced dramatically." Aziz said that Islamabad's satisfaction with the deal is such that talks are under way with other tribes along the Afghan-Pakistani border with an eye to reaching similar deals. North West Frontier Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai -- who has emerged as a leading supporter of the agreement -- called the North Waziristan deal a "model agreement" that should be emulated. Reports from Pakistan suggest that plans are under way to follow the North Waziristan model in South Waziristan -- where talks on a peace deal broke down in 2004 -- and in Bajaur.

Orakzai has suggested that if the North Waziristan model is replicated with tribes on the Afghan side of the border, it could represent a permanent solution to the Afghan "imbroglio."NATO officials have greeted the North Waziristan agreement with skepticism, but have been cautiously optimistic in their public assessments.

Before meeting with Musharraf in Islamabad in mid-October, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander British Lieutenant General David Richards said the "luck and good judgment" that he sees in Pakistan could allow the deal to "set an example for how we should deal with these problems."

But a NATO spokesman in Brussels, James Appathurai, subsequently said the alliance is "looking carefully." He said NATO is "hoping and anticipating that the agreement will deliver results" by "reducing the number of insurgents crossing" the border "or [dampening] support for the insurgents and the Taliban crossing" into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Appathurai cited "concerns" within NATO that support for the Taliban was still entering Afghanistan. Less diplomatically, military sources on the ground talk of a higher volume of traffic into Afghanistan's Khost Province, which borders North Waziristan, since the agreement was signed.

NATO also appears to be trying to emulate the North Waziristan peace agreement in Afghanistan. British forces evacuated Helmand Province's Musa Qala district in mid-October. ISAF commander Richards called the deal in Helmand a "desire on our part to do what the people want." He added that he is "told [that] the arrangements in Waziristan were not a deal with the Taliban," and insisted that the Helmand deal was "with local elders principally."

Afghan officials are currently championing their own policy of convening tribal councils involving tribes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border to curb the lack of security.

Afghans may well remember that, in 1994, the Taliban came onto the Afghan scene ostensibly to bring security and order -- something they largely achieved. Now, 12 years later, the neo-Taliban might be perceived as peace brokers. That could leave some observers wondering whether the long-term ideals of democracy are being sacrificed for the prize of peace in the short term.

Armed clashes in the Shindand district of Herat Province on October 22 have left 32 people dead, including Amanullah Khan, international news agencies reported. The clashes involving rival Pashtun tribes in Herat reportedly resumed on October 22 when loyalists of Naser Khan attacked Amanullah Khan's militia, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on October 23. Naser Khan reportedly was avenging the killing of his father, who is purported to have been killed by Amanullah Khan's son along with four other people earlier in October. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the people of Shindand "to avoid resorting to violence and contain" the incident, an October 23 press release from Karzai's office reported. Karzai has sent a senior delegation to visit the region to help resolve the dispute peacefully. AT

A brother of Amanullah Khan, the slain warlord of Shindand, has accused Afghan Water and Power Minister Mohammad Ismail Khan of having a hand in the killing, AIP reported on October 23. "Both Ismail Khan...and the district chief of Shindand were involved in the killing of my brother," the unidentified brother of Amanullah Khan told AIP. Amanullah Khan and Ismail Khan fought several battles between 2001 to 2004 when Amanullah Khan's forces nearly captured the city of Herat and weakened the position of the then self-appointed amir (ruler) of Herat, Ismail Khan, allowing Karzai to appoint him a minister in his cabinet (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," September 17, 2004 and January 22, 2005). According to AIP, Ismail Khan has not commented on the death of his former rival. AT

The Taliban on October 22 began imposing "their brand of penalties" and "taxes" in Miranshah, the principal city in the North Waziristan agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the Karachi daily "Dawn" reported on October 23. The local Taliban, who opened two offices in North Waziristan after the signing of a peace agreement with Islamabad in September, have distributed pamphlets listing punishments according to the Shari'a for crimes committed in the "area of operations" and have issued a "tax schedule." According to the report, every 10-wheel truck entering North Waziristan will have to pay about approximately $25 for a six-month pass; gas pump owners are subject to about an $80 tax every six months, payable to the local shura (council). According to "Dawn" the taxes are listed as a "donation" which would be made available to the Taliban Shura. There is no indication of how the collected funds would be used. AT

The bodies of 18 Pakistanis between the ages of 15 and 25 who were killed in recent fighting in Afghanistan were repatriated to North Waziristan, IRNA reported on October 23. According to locals, the youth where part of some 100 Pakistanis under the command of Saifullah who had gone to Afghanistan to fight against NATO-led forces. According to the peace agreement signed between locals in North Waziristan and the Pakistani government, local tribes are supposed to ensure that there is no movement of insurgents across the border into Afghanistan. AT

Iranian officials stressed on October 23 Iran's resolve to resist Western pressure over its controversial nuclear program, agencies reported. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Rey, south of Tehran, that all Iranians wish to have "the full use of nuclear energy" and "are standing by their right," IRNA reported. Iran, he said, will continue to pursue activities that are "within the framework of the law and regulations" in contrast to the conduct of "certain forceful powers" that trample on "justice" and "morality." He said he was certain the "nation will stand firm until the last stage of its goal," though he urged foreign powers to "let us resolve problems in an atmosphere of dialogue." The same day, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani suggested Western powers accept the "formulae" Iran proposed in recent talks between Larijani and EU negotiator Javier Solana. These include, he said, Western recognition of Iran's right to make nuclear fuel and engage in attendant activities, and the formation of a multinational fuel-making consortium to reassure the West there are no deviations in Iran's program to bomb-making activities, IRNA reported. He was speaking after a meeting in Tehran with Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili. VS

President Ahmadinejad said in a speech in Shemiranat, a suburb of Tehran, on October 23 that "we have no problem with the people of America, and believe [it] is currently under the sway of an aggressive government," ISNA reported. Ahmadinejad was touring and speaking in Tehran's environs that day. He said there are two foreign policy perspectives in the world presently, "the first perspective is [of] humiliation and insults to nations" and seeks to curb the progress of nations. The other perspective, Iran's, is of religious piety and "respect for nations and human dignity." The United States, he said, now fingerprints visiting Iranians at airports "like criminals," but Iran "has not engaged in this policy toward American nationals, and we believe [they] can easily travel to Iran. Of course if anyone wants to spy or commit violations, we shall...not permit them to enter," ISNA quoted him as saying. He said "we asked parliament" to halt a proposed bill to fingerprint U.S. visitors. VS

Registration of aspiring candidates for local council polls due in December ended late on October 22, with some prominent Iranians registering to run, agencies reported. They included former Tehran police chief Morteza Talai; Masumeh Ebtekar, a vice president in the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami; Ishaq Jahangiri, former industry minister under Khatami; and Ahmad Masjid-Jamei, Khatami's former culture minister. Others registering were prominent reformist Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, former state budget chief Muhammad Ali Najafi, and conservative Mehrdad Bazrpash, who, until recently, was an adviser to President Ahmadinejad, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on October 23. Candidacies must be approved by the Guardians Council, a body of clerical jurists. On October 23, leftist cleric Hadi Khamenei said unfair disqualifications, bias among Guardians Council or related personnel involved in electoral supervision, or the "citing of amazing excuses or raising pseudo-legal obstacles" for aspirants will discredit the upcoming polls for local councils and the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body. "If...the gentlemen want to resort to their old methods, the elections are flawed, even if nobody says so," ISNA quoted him as saying. Khamenei is the brother of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. VS

In a Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) report on press freedom in the world over the past year, Iran is listed as a state that restricts free speech, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on October 23. The report includes Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad among the prominent enemies of the free press, Radio Farda added. Separately, Iran's Defenders of Human Rights Center has issued a report on the state of human rights in Iran over the past six months, Radio Farda reported. The center's report cites rights irregularities including 29 cases of legal action against journalists in that time; 38 cases of interference in court cases by "irresponsible individuals"; prosecutions of 35 press editors; seven publications being banned; books removed from bookshops; refusing to allow the publication of certain books; 130 cases of disciplinary measures taken against students; and 21 cases of prosecution or imprisonment of students, Radio Farda reported. VS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on October 23 warned armed groups in the country to lay down their weapons or face arrest by Iraqi security forces, international media reported the same day. "The Iraqi government hereby warns all groups with illegal weapons to refrain from any armed activities that undermine public security. Let everyone be informed that orders have been issued to the armed forces to stop any transgression against state power," AP reported the premier as saying. Meanwhile, the government called a curfew in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Amarah on October 23 until further notice, following several days of violence between Shi'ite militias and government security forces. KR

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told reporters in London on October 23 that "there is no option for the international community to cut and run" from Iraq. Salih insisted that the Iraqi government is making strides on the security front, telling reporters that up to eight of the country's 18 governorates should be under Iraqi control by the end of the year. Salih was in London for meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The prime minister said Britain intends to "hold its nerve" in Iraq, the BBC reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told the BBC on October 23 that Britain does not intend to set "rash" deadlines for a withdrawal of its forces and that British troops will pull out only when the Iraqi government is in a position to "cope" with its security challenges. KR

Japan announced on October 23 that it will provide loans to upgrade an oil refinery in Al-Basrah and to rebuild a fertilizer plant Khur al-Zubayr, AP and Japanese media reported on October 24. The deals are part of a $3.5 billion loan that Japan committed to in 2003. The announcement came during a visit by Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani to Tokyo. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso assured al-Shahristani that Japan will continue to support Iraqi reconstruction under its new prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Japanese officials cited al-Shahristani as saying that Iraq is adjusting legislation to make it more conducive for Japanese firms to take part in oil development projects, Kyodo World Service reported. Al-Shahrisdtani said Iraq is losing about 400,000 barrels a day in crude oil exports due to increasingly frequent attacks by saboteurs on pipelines in the northern part of the country, AP reported on October 24. KR

A U.S. soldier was on October 23 listed as "duty status-whereabouts unknown," the multinational force in Iraq announced the same day. The Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported that the U.S. military cordoned off the Al-Karradah district of Baghdad in an apparent effort to find the soldier. The military also stormed the Al-Furat television station, which is operated by a Shi'ite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. It is not known whether the raid was related to the search for the soldier. A military official told "The New York Times" that the soldier, who works as an interpreter, was last seen inside the Green Zone, a highly protected area that includes the Iraqi parliament and government buildings. A tip-off from an Iraqi indicated that the soldier may have been kidnapped outside the Green Zone, the daily reported on October 24. KR