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Newsline - March 6, 2007

Russia's Security Council said in a statement on March 5 that it is developing a new military strategy to take into account what it called the increased use of force by unnamed "leading states," Britain's "Financial Times" reported on March 6. The statement noted that "leading states are paying increasing attention in military policy to modernizing their military forces and improving their weaponry.... Modern forms of armed conflict are being actively implemented, technologies for use of force are being reviewed, the configuration of military presence is being changed, and military alliances are being strengthened, particularly NATO." PM

Russian Air Force Commander In Chief Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov said on March 5 that both conventional airspace and outer space will be potential scenes of armed conflict by 2015, and that Russia's defenses there "must be at their best," Interfax reported. He suggested that, even in outer space, "multiple local threats in all geo-strategic avenues" have replaced the likelihood of a massive East-West confrontation. Also on March 5, Lieutenant General Aytech Bizhev, who is a deputy commander of the air force with responsibility for the CIS states, said that possible U.S. radar sites in the Czech Republic and the Caucasus "will offer [the United States] an opportunity to monitor the territory of the Russian Federation," Interfax reported. He added that "these radar installations have very extensive technical capabilities, and they will cover all of Russia's territory within their target range." Bizhev believes that "what the United States is doing today does not come as a surprise to Russia. They are creating a missile-attack warning system along Russia's perimeter in order to be able to detect any movement, any launch, and to automatically transmit information to the [North American] continent, where a political decision will be made." In the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of March 5, retired Colonel General Viktor Yesin, who formerly commanded the Strategic Missile Forces, said that the goal of U.S. missile defense is not to deter rogue states, but to reduce the effectiveness of Russia's nuclear deterrent forces. He added that the Pentagon may start with only 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, but that this number could easily be increased to 100. Yesin believes that Washington's ultimate goal is to use space-based weapons to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles. PM

The "International Herald Tribune" of March 6 reported from Washington that "the [George W.] Bush administration has decided to reach out more often and more intensively to Russia at a time when the leadership in Moscow is harshly criticizing American policy, and some scholars say the United States has not sufficiently tended to an important relationship." The daily added that unnamed "senior administration officials said their initiative calls for engaging Russian leaders in private discussions to illustrate that the United States is putting extra effort into nurturing the relationship, and that Russia deserves a more thorough dialogue on American foreign policy and national security plans." The officials stressed that they will nonetheless "stand their ground" in talks with Russian counterparts and not be deterred by "Russian threats" regarding the proposed missile-defense project. PM

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted by Britain's "Financial Times" of March 6 as saying that "NATO is the best place for a discussion" of missile defense by Washington with both its Western allies and Russia. She stressed that "it is better to have more discussion on this issue rather than less." German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung recently made a similar statement. Germany itself participates in a EU military capability separate from NATO, which has drawn criticism from Washington and elsewhere. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently pointed out in Berlin that Washington has held 10 rounds of talks with Russia on the defense system since spring 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 22, and 23, 2007). She and Polish and Czech officials have stressed that ongoing missile-defense talks are a matter between sovereign, independent states. The "Financial Times" of March 6 quoted Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek as saying that "as for the 18 EU member states who host U.S. military bases, it is not up to them to comment on the existence of a similar presence in the Czech Republic." In Brussels on March 5, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said that "in the population of Austria, there is some concern" about missile defense, reported. Her counterpart from Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, called the U.S. plans "incomprehensible" and warned that "we will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner." Statements by Luxembourg officials often mirror thinking in Paris or Berlin. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg replied that he "is very astonished to hear this [criticism] from...Austria which does not take part in the defense of Europe, is not even a part of NATO, and Luxembourg, which is rather far away from us.... Everybody who is concerned about European defense, about security in the future, knows that we need...a defense against [missiles]." PM

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said on March 6 that the fatal March 3 attack on Russian gas pipeline workers in Algeria shows that Al-Qaeda is continuing its war against Russia, RIA Novosti reported. He argued that "the terrorist attack in Algeria is yet another reminder to world leaders that enemies must be sought where they are based, and not among civilized countries." Mironov stressed that Russia has never fought against Islam or its followers. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, the daily "Kommersant" reported on March 6. PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev held a live Internet news conference on March 5, in which he responded to ordinary citizens' questions, reported. He dealt almost exclusively with his responsibilities for the four National Projects, which involve the key domestic sectors of housing, health, agriculture, and education (see "Russia: President's Potential Successor Debuts At Davos,", January 31, 2007). He said that religious instruction in the schools, which the Russian Orthodox Church demands, should be only on a voluntary basis. Medvedev defended the use of a form of Internet Russian slang popular with some young people. He argued that "an alternative Russian language, no matter how some may [object to] it, is a reality among the Internet audience." Medvedev is often mentioned as a possible successor to Putin in 2008, but he avoided any concrete discussion of the subject in his Internet conference. Large-scale, interactive forums are usually the preserve of President Putin, who held a multimedia televised question-and-answer session on October 25, 2006, and a major press conference on February 1. PM

Moscow's Taganka Raion prosecutors opened a criminal investigation on March 5 into the death of Ivan Safronov, a writer on military and space affairs for the daily "Kommersant" and a former colonel, his paper and reported on March 6. He apparently fell from a fifth-floor window in his apartment building in the afternoon of March 2. An autopsy revealed no traces of alcohol or drugs in his system. ITAR-TASS quoted unnamed "law enforcement officials" on March 5 as saying that suicide appears to be the most likely cause of death. Other officials suggested that he may have been "driven to suicide." and his own paper quoted some of his colleagues as saying that they believe he was killed. "Kommersant" wrote on March 6 that "it is known that he was preparing a publication on Russian arms deliveries to the Middle East that could have caused a major scandal." PM

President Putin submitted on March 5 to the Tomsk Oblast Duma the name of incumbent Viktor Kress to serve a further term as regional governor, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and reported on March 6. Kress, who is 58, was first named to that post in late 1991 by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and in 1995 became the first governor ever to be popularly elected, garnering 53 percent of the vote; he was reelected in 1999 and 2003 with 73 percent and 71.2 percent, respectively. Kress's current term expires only in September 2008, but during a visit to Tomsk by Putin in April 2006 he requested a vote of confidence, to which Putin reportedly responded "Carry on working and don't worry." Kress heads the party list of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party for the Tomsk Duma elections on March 11; Putin's renomination of him has been construed as backing for that party in the ballot. LF

Police in Daghestan have arrested four persons suspected of involvement in the March 2 exchange of fire in the village of Urkarakh in Dakhadayev Raion between supporters of rival candidates for the March 11 local elections, reported on March 5. Two people died in the incident and Nukh Nukhov, the Union of Rightist Forces candidate for local council head, was injured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007). On March 6, Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov met in Makhachkala with Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev to review preparations for the simultaneous March 11 elections to a new republican parliament, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 23, 25, and 30, 2007). LF

The Leningrad Oblast Military Prosecutor's Office has closed a criminal case brought last fall against Sulim Yamadayev, commander of the GRU Vostok battalion, and reported on March 6. Yamadayev and a group of his men are said to have physically intimidated Khamzat Arsamakov, the director of a Leningrad Oblast sausage factory, in September 2006. Yamadayev and Arsamakov, two of whose relatives disappeared in Chechnya last month, are reported to have settled their grievance out of court. LF

Echoing Ambassador Anne Derse, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Baku Jonathan Henick was quoted by on March 3 as saying that the United States is not considering deploying an antimissile defense system in the South Caucasus. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said on March 1 that the United States would like to base an antimissile radar in one of the South Caucasus countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2007). Novruz Mammadov, who heads the Azerbaijani presidential administration's international affairs department, similarly told on March 5 that Azerbaijan has not discussed any such plans with Washington. LF

Azerbaijan's Appeals Court rejected on March 5 an appeal by former presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev against the six year prison term handed down to him four months earlier by Azerbaijan's Court for Grave Crimes, and reported on March 5 and 6, respectively. His lawyer plans to appeal that rejection to Azerbaijan's Supreme Court. Muradverdiyev was found guilty of large-scale embezzlement of state property, abuse of his official position and receiving a bribe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2006). He was arrested in October 2005 in connection with an alleged planned coup d'etat. The investigation into that case continues. LF

The opposition Democratic Front parliament faction demanded on March 5 the dismissal of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and the ministry's division into its two former constituent parts, responsible for internal affairs and national security, respectively, Caucasus Press reported. Pikria Chikhradze, a member of the opposition New Rightists parliament faction, called on President Mikheil Saakashvili on March 5 to either endorse or dismiss Merabishvili, Caucasus Press reported. But the ruling National Movement faction rejected the opposition demands as inappropriate. Merabishvili has been subjected to repeated criticism over the past year in connection with the murder by ministry staffers of a Tbilisi banker and the role of penitentiary department head Bacho Akhalaya during a riot in March 2006 in a Tbilisi prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27, 28 and 29, 2006). In a poll conducted in January 2007 by the weekly "Kviris palitra," respondents identified him as the most influential government minister. LF

Seitkazy Mataev, chairman of the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan, told a press conference in Almaty on March 5 that journalists are demanding the resignation of Information and Culture Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The journalists were angered by Ertysbaev's ejection of some of their colleagues from the television channel Era on March 2 because they allegedly criticized his handling of a recent tender, Mataev said. For his part, Ertysbaev rebuffed the call for his resignation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He said, "They have already been demanding this for a whole year. Everyone has his or her own problems. I have no problem of this kind and have no intention to resign." Previously, journalists requested Ertysbaev's resignation because of his alleged "authoritarian methods" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12 and 15, 2006). DK

Feliks Kulov said in Bishkek on March 5 that the newly formed opposition movement the United Front For a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 20, 2007), which he leads, is calling for an early presidential election but not the resignation of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, news agency reported. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service quoted Kulov as saying, "Some of the voters voted [in the presidential election] precisely for the 'tandem' [of Kulov and Bakiev], and it is necessary to establish today what part of the voters voted for the 'tandem,' whether it was a larger part or a smaller part. In order to do that, this issue should be resolved in a legitimate way. In other words, this can be established by early elections." Kulov also criticized the country's new constitution, which expands presidential powers. He said, "Even many members of parliament didn't read those [amended] articles [of the new constitution] and they voted in bulk, so to speak, to adopt the constitution, and the population didn't even understand which articles they were talking about. Those articles were not discussed in parliament or among the population. So, the question is, who is to blame? The legitimacy [of the new constitution] comes into question." DK

Daniyar Usenov, whom former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov recently accused of buying his position with a $300,000 bribe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, 2007), told parliament on March 5 that the allegation is "a lie," reported. Usenov said, "I am forced to file suit for libel. Let Feliks [Kulov] prove in court how much money I handed over and who received it." For his part, Kulov stated on March 5 in Bishkek that he heard about the alleged bribe only from Usenov himself, and that while President Bakiev was a witness to their conversation, Kulov has "no other proof," reported. DK

Li Jun, vice president of China Exim Bank, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on March 5 to discuss the bank's projects in Tajikistan, Avesta reported. Asia Plus-Blitz reported that China Exim Bank is providing a $267 million loan to build the South-North electrical transmission line, and a $55 million loan to build the Lolazor-Khatlon electrical transmission line. China is also financing the Dushanbe-Chanak road construction project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2006), Avesta reported. Rakhmonov and Li Jun gave a positive assessment of progress on the projects. DK

Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has signed a resolution restoring physical education to the grade-school curriculum, reported on March 4. Such classes had been eliminated under an order from former President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December. The report also noted that the switch from a nine-year to a 10-year school curriculum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2007) will also affect recent graduates, with pupils who finish the ninth grade in 2007 going on to study in the 10th grade in the 2007-2008 academic year. The resolution aims to "create opportunities for our young people to receive an education in the most prestigious higher-educational institutions of foreign countries." DK

EU foreign ministers decided on March 5 in Brussels to postpone until May a review of the sanctions currently in force against Uzbekistan, RFE/RL reported. Germany, which currently holds the EU's chair, expressed cautious optimism over what it believes may be signs that Uzbekistan may be willing to meet some of the bloc's human rights concerns. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told his colleagues that Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov has promised further talks on Andijon and the government's treatment of human rights activists. Steinmeier said that possible Uzbek concessions would involve granting the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisons; holding a further round of talks with EU experts on the events that took place in Andijon in May 2005, where hundreds of protesters died after clashes with government troops; and launching a human rights dialogue allowing the EU to raise individual cases. AL/DK

Ten Uzbek refugees who received asylum in the United States last year are returning to Uzbekistan, RIA Novosti reported on March 5, citing an anonymous Uzbek law-enforcement source. The source said, "On Monday evening [March 5], 10 Uzbek citizens are arriving. They are all women who received refugee status and had been living in Idaho." A group of 439 Uzbek refugees who fled the country after unrest in Andijon in May 2005 were subsequently resettled to third countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 29, 2005). Several small groups have since returned home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 18, August 24 and 28, and September 1, 2006). DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on March 6 wrapped up his three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates and left Abu Dhabi, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. "The Emirates is satisfied with stability in Belarus very much. The Emirates would be eager to come to Belarus," Lukashenka told journalists before his departure. He revealed that the two countries are currently discussing joint projects worth some $100 million. Five bilateral agreements were reportedly signed during Lukashenka's visit, including on air service and military cooperation. JM

United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka and Party of Communists leader Syarhey Kalyakin said in Minsk on March 5 that the stances of the United States and the European Union on the Belarusian regime will remain unchanged and coordinated, Belapan reported. Lyabedzka and Kalyakin were commenting on their trip to Washington last week, in which they were accompanied by Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka, civic society activist Syarhey Matskevich, and Iryna Kazulina, the wife of imprisoned opposition politician Alyaksandr Kazulin. "We discussed a great deal of issues, in particular, support for an independent satellite-television channel, the organization of a hearing on Belarus at the U.S. Congress, and a program to combat cancer. A sort of Marshall Plan for post-Lukashenka Belarus was also under discussion," Lyabedzka said. Lyabedzka described as "absolute nonsense" Belarusian Ambassador to the U.S. Mikhail Khvastou's comment last week that the goal of their visit to Washington was to suggest imposing new sanctions on Belarus. JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Kyiv on March 5 that the calls by some politicians for early parliamentary and presidential elections in Ukraine are "groundless," Interfax-Ukraine reported. Last week, a lawmaker from the Party of Regions headed by Yanukovych announced that he plans to submit to the Verkhovna Rada a bill on holding early presidential and parliamentary elections in the fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1 and 2, 2007). JM

The spokesman of acting Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Andreja Mladenovic, on March 4 said that he is absolutely certain Belgrade will not issue an condemnation of the massacre of roughly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, according to the news agency FoNet. President Boris Tadic called on the Serbian parliament to condemn the 1995 massacre following a February 26 ruling by the International Court of Justice that cleared Serbia of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s but said Serbia had failed in its obligation to halt the massacre, which it described as an "act of genocide" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 27, 28, and March 1 and 5, 2007). Mladenovic said he is certain that a declaration would fail to win support in parliament, and that parliament should instead pass a declaration condemning all crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, as it is unacceptable to distinguish between victims of war crimes. Without the support of the DSS or two nationalist parties, the Serbian Radical Party and the Socialist Party of Serbia, a declaration would fall short of the majority needed. AG

DSS spokesman Mladenovic also indicated that the party is adopting a tough position on the formation of a coalition government, FoNet reported. The second-largest party in parliament, President Tadic's Democratic Party (DS), is currently in talks with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Cedomir Jovanovic, which won 15 seats in elections on January 21. Mladenovic said the DSS, which won 47 seats in the 250-member parliament, is "completely clear" that the LDP and parties supporting it will "not be in the new government, because this is the position and decision of the DSS." Mladenovic accused Jovanovic of pursuing "a pest-like policy directed against the state and national interests of Serbia," a policy "of breaking Serbia up and creating another Albanian state," a reference to talks on the final status of Serbia's UN-administered province of Kosova, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007). AG

Serbia's Finance Ministry on March 5 ordered an investigation after the U.S. government voiced suspicions that a significant difference between exports and imports between Serbia and Cyprus may indicate money laundering, Radio Belgrade reported the same day. The U.S. State Department report on money laundering, issued on March 1, pointed out that in 2005 Serbian imports from Cyprus totaled $1 billion, while its exports were worth just $40 million. A Finance Ministry official, Milan Parivodic, said that the Foreign Currency Inspectorate, the Revenue Service, and the Service for Preventing Money Laundering have been asked to gather information. Parivodic described the investigation as "a phase in the further development of democracy and financial discipline" in a country that was in a state of "complete disorder until the beginning of 2001." Slobodan Milosevic, who died in March 2006 while facing war crimes charges, was ousted as president of Serbia in October 2000. AG

The inaugural session of the Serbian National Assembly of Kosovo, conceived as a nonpartisan forum to unite and organize Kosova's Serbs, broke up on March 4 amid scuffles and accusations of "treason," local media reported. The delegates converged from all parts of northern Kosova in the town of Gracanica, but shortly after the opening, protesters broke into the building and halted proceedings. The protesters, described as local Serbs by most media reports, said their main reason for opposing the assembly was that its organizers were not legitimate representatives of the contested province's Serbs and that its creation would be politically divisive, the Belgrade broadcaster B92 reported on March 5. According to B92, they claimed the decision to enter the building was triggered by the sight of French, German, and U.S. diplomats. One of the organizers, Oliver Ivanovic, the leader of the moderate Serbian List for Kosovo, accused the acting Serbian coalition government of being behind the incident, B92 reported, while, according to the news agency FoNet, the head of the organizing committee, Petar Miletic, said the Socialist Party of Serbia, led in the 1990s by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, organized the disruption. The Albanian-language newspaper "Koha ditore" on March 5 quoted Ivanovic as saying that the mission of the assembly "is the unification of Kosovo Serbs, because for now we do not have a strategy on how to react following the solution of Kosovo's status." Ivanovic said he will continue to try and form the assembly. Ivanovic and other moderates fear that if the province's Serbs remain divided and disorganized, there may be another exodus of Serbs after the final status of Kosova is settled. Another organization, the Serbian National Council, issued a statement condemning the "illegal and illegitimate creation of a so-called Serbian National Assembly of Kosovo," which it accused of aiming to undermine "Serbia's unified approach in the Kosovo status issue, which may prompt the independence of Kosovo," B92 reported. Its leader, Milan Ivanovic, said on March 4 that Kosovar Serbs plan to block roads in the region to protest against the UN's blueprint for the region, the Montenegrin daily "Dan" reported on March 5. Consultations about the plan are due to resume on March 10, and the plan will then be discussed by the UN Security Council in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007). AG

The prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) opened its case against Ramush Haradinaj by saying the former Kosovar prime minister has "blood on [his] hands," international and local media reported. The chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said in her opening address that "this is a criminal trial for violent crimes committed out of the sight of international observers or monitors. My intention is to show that this warlord and his two lieutenants have blood on their hands." She said Haradinaj, whom she called a "warlord" in his role as an ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander in the late 1990s, his uncle Lahi Brahimaj, and a fellow commander Idriz Balaj, stand accused of "ugly, cruel and violent crimes." The three, whom Del Ponte described as "this warlord, his lieutenant, and his jailer," face 37 charges including rape, torture, and murder. Haradinaj pleaded not guilty to the charges in a pretrial hearing on March 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2007). Del Ponte warned, however, that she may have to withdraw the indictment because a pattern of intimidation has prompted some witnesses to withdraw. She said the latest threat was recorded on March 3-4. Haradinaj has garnered large popular and financial support for his defense, and the ICTY has criticized the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo for meeting with Haradinaj shortly before he left Kosova for The Hague to face trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 2007). AG

Croatia's Supreme Court on March 5 decided that a lower court was right to rule in 2006 that eight former military officers were guilty of war crimes committed in 1992 in Split's Lora prison, the news agency Hina reported the same day. The eight received prison sentences ranging up to eight years for torture and murder. The victims were chiefly ethnic Serbs. The ruling was made on February 6 but only publicized on March 5, on the Supreme Court's website. The eight men were controversially acquitted in 2002, but the Supreme Court ordered a new trial in 2005. Hina reported that investigations are continuing into further allegations of war crimes at Lora. The suspects are among those already sentenced. A Croatian television documentary on February 28 provoked heated discussions in Croatia, in part because it came just two days after the International Court of Justice cleared Serbia of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2007). Croatian public television on March 5 reported that Croatia is considering trying to reach an out-of-court settlement with Serbia in a genocide suit that it has brought against Serbia. AG

Dozens of Albanians burned Greek flags on March 4 in the southern Albanian town of Fieri after Albanian television broadcast a video showing Greek soldiers singing anti-Albanian songs, local and international media reported. The video, which was reportedly posted on a website of the Greek Army before being reported by the Greek daily "Ta Nea," showed Greek soldiers chanting, "We will make ropes from Albanians' guts" during training exercises. Deputy Defense Minister Petrit Karabina called on Athens to "condemn these scandalous acts" that go "against the spirit of Euro-Atlantic values," and to eradicate "aggressive nationalism toward Albanians" from its armed forces, AFP reported on March 5. "We unequivocally condemn such incidents, whose authenticity is under investigation," Greek Defense Ministry spokesman Stefanos Gikas said on March 5, adding in comments to AFP that "everybody knows that we support Albania's entry into European and Atlantic organizations." Albania hopes to join NATO within a year, while Greece is already a member of the alliance. Estimates of the size of Albania's Greek population range from 1 to 12 percent. There were a number of minor incidents between Albanians and Greeks in the run-up to local Albanian elections on February 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 15 and 20, 2007). AG

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said on March 4 that the government will in January 2008 unveil a new policy designed to fully liberalize the economy. Speaking on the television channel NIT, he gave few details of the plan, but spoke of easing business conditions and improving tax collection and fiscal controls, Moldpress reported the same day. With an eye to the experience of large-scale economic reform in Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s, Voronin stressed that the reforms will not be destructive in nature. Voronin, who has considerable powers as head of a presidential state, said that the plan is currently being drafted in consultation with international financial organizations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) increased its forecast for Moldova's economic growth in 2007 on February 28, from 3 percent to 4.5-5 percent. During a visit to Chisinau, the IMF's chief negotiator for Moldova, Thomas Richardson, said the upgrade was because of Russia's decision to lift its bans on Moldovan wine and meat and because Chisinau managed to secure a better price from its chief supplier, Russia's Gazprom, than the IMF expected, Basa news agency reported. Richardson advocated adjusting monetary policy to bring inflation down from its current level of around 13 percent. AG

When the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), a consortium of 55 governments and international organizations that oversees peace efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, met in Brussels on February 26-27, the mood was grim. Last year, the PIC announced that the top international body in Bosnia, the Office of the High Representative (OHR), should phase out by the end of June 2007 and hand over to a European Union special representative.

But since last year's meeting, stalled reform, a delay in signing a preaccession agreement with the European Union, a divisive general election, and the expectation of potential fallout from the upcoming Kosova status decision have all conspired to make a June handover appear unrealistic. The PIC was therefore constrained to extend the OHR's mandate by one year, through June 30, 2008. The PIC's decision is a recognition that international policy toward Bosnia over the last year has failed to achieve its goals. But what exactly are those goals?

The OHR was established to implement the Dayton peace agreement of November 1995 and has extensive powers over Bosnia's domestic politics. In late 1997, after a difficult start under Carl Bildt, the OHR was handed the authority to enact or revoke legislation; dismiss public officials and bar them from holding office in the future; vet candidates for public office; and fine or ban political parties.

These so-called Bonn powers have since become the focus of an intense though largely academic debate about the legitimacy of using nondemocratic means to build democracy. The lack of an appeals or review procedure prompted particularly harsh, and justified, criticism even from observers who were sympathetic to the notion that the difficult transition from war to peace required robust tools.

High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch put the notion of "local ownership" at the center of his tenure, from 1999 to 2002, but did not shy away from using the Bonn powers where necessary. Under his successor, Paddy Ashdown, Bonn decisions reached their peak, and Ashdown's forceful manner provoked angry shouts from the sidelines.

Already under Ashdown, however, the international community's approach was pushing against its limits. The Bonn powers were a blunt tool; the fact that they were often used without any discernible broader strategy was far more damaging to the international project than their alleged lack of democratic legitimacy. (The high representative frequently trumped all local politicians in opinion polls.)

The PIC's listlessness was now replaced by the desire to disengage from Bosnia, in part reflecting a dramatically shifting international environment. (On the day the PIC decided to stick around for another year, the EU announced that well over half of its current peacekeepers in Bosnia will be withdrawn over the coming months; they are urgently needed elsewhere.)

The Bonn powers, and the entire idea of an (undeclared) protectorate, became something of an embarrassment. In their eagerness to disengage from Bosnia, the PIC countries seized on the notion that the pull of closer ties with Brussels will sustain implementation of agreed-upon reform and provide the momentum for additional reform, for example of the police (the last major obstacle to a preaccession deal with the EU).

Against this backdrop, the PIC named a man to succeed Ashdown whose entire outlook could not have been more different. Christian Schwarz-Schilling of Germany, who took up his post in February 2006, subscribed to the line that international power was the main problem in Bosnia, not incapable or obstructionist local politicians and zero-sum ethnic politics. He announced that he would not use the Bonn powers except in the most extreme circumstances, and then spent his first year in office watching the OHR's authority erode at precisely the moment when increasing tension would have required a robust international presence in Bosnia. All this was perfectly predictable, and had in fact been predicted.

One year later, the PIC decided in a fit of newfound realism that doing nothing was not the right way to go about disengaging from Bosnia. It told Schwarz-Schilling that the OHR's mandate would be extended beyond June 2007, but without him at the helm: not the OHR would be phased out, but he personally. This arrangement has now been formalized at last week's PIC meeting in Brussels.

The first casualty of the PIC's exercise in political realism is Schwarz-Schilling's career. The second casualty, far more important, is the PIC's strategy of using "local ownership" as a cover for a premature exit. Abandoning the fiction that "ownership" will help Bosnia conclude a preaccession agreement with Brussels, let alone become a credible candidate for membership, is an important first step -- but no more. The European Commission should now bluntly spell out the next steps Bosnia needs to take in order to forge closer ties with the bloc.

Unfortunately, there are no indications that this will happen. And beyond that first step, it looks even less likely that the PIC will come up with a proper strategy this late in the game. The only time that the word "goal" makes an appearance in the PIC Steering Board's statement of February 27 is to reiterate, "transition remains the goal."

By transition, the PIC refers to the OHR's handover to the EU special representative. But instead of thinking hard about benchmarks for the OHR and specific tasks for the EU special representative, a largely virtual office that since Paddy Ashdown has been held by the high representative, the PIC blandly stated that it is looking forward "to a continued exchange of information with regard to the respective roles of OHR and the EU special representative."

The PIC has missed a chance to explain why the OHR needs another year beyond June to achieve its goal. One reason why the office is still needed is Bosnia's cumbersome constitution -- part of the Dayton accords -- with its perverse incentives for zero-sum ethnic politics. As long as this constitution is in place, many Bosnia-watchers suggest, the OHR has to stay -- but repeated attempts to get Bosnian politicians to agree on an amended charter have come to naught. Defining that goal down to "transition" makes the one-year extension nonsensical. If transition is the goal, why not transition now?

The PIC's cluelessness puts the full weight of heightened expectations on the shoulders of the next high representative. Too bad, then, that the system to select the chief international official in Bosnia is broken. In fact, there is no system: no search committee, no ad in "The Economist," no job interview. By convention, the high representative is a European, and all the big countries save France and Italy have had a go already. That means the job is theirs -- if they can find a candidate of the required caliber who won't be put off by the difficult situation on the ground; the fact that the core task of the OHR has been defined as making itself redundant; and the diminished authority of the office that is the current occupant's main legacy.

(T.K. Vogel is a writer on Balkan affairs and author of a forthcoming study on ethnic cleansing.)

The Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) of the Afghan National Assembly on March 5 condemned the civilian casualties that resulted when U.S. forces opened fire after a suicide attack on their convoy in Nangarhar Province on March 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007), near the eastern city of Jalalabad, the Pajhwak Afghan News reported. U.S. military sources in Afghanistan said that eight Afghan civilians were killed and 35 others were injured in the incident, American Forces Press Service reported on March 4. The Pajhwak Afghan News reported, however, that 16 civilians were killed and more than 20 wounded. U.S. officials say the convoy was attacked by militants from several directions in addition to the suicide bomber who rammed his vehicle into the convoy. The Wolesi Jirga decided to form a commission to investigate the circumstances under which the civilians were killed, Pajhwak reported. The speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, said the incident is worrying for all Afghans. The Taliban have already taken responsibility for the attack, highlighting the civilian casualties. Meanwhile, hundreds of Afghan students have rallied in Jalalabad to demand the withdrawal of foreign troops. The protesters shouted slogans against the "invading forces" and chanted "Death to Americans!" The demonstrators also protested the NATO air strike that reportedly killed nine civilians in Kapisa Province, north of Kabul, on the same day as the deaths in Nangarhar Province. AT

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asked the U.S. military in Afghanistan for an explanation of "threats and censorship" against Afghan journalists covering the deadly incident in Nangarhar. According a statement by RSF on March 5, when Afghan journalists arrived on the scene of the attack, a U.S. soldier told them to stop taking photos and footage of a vehicle in which three civilians had been killed before seizing their equipment and destroying the images. The same soldier reportedly threatened reprisals if any video of the scene was broadcast. A commission ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai "should urgently shed light on what happened near Jalalabad, including the acts of censorship by the U.S. [military]," RSF said. AT

A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- on March 5 published what it termed the "final warning of the mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate" to the people of Oruzgan Province. The warning begins saying that in Oruzgan more than 8,000 "mujahedin," armed with light and heavy weaponry, are ready to wage jihad against foreign forces and their "mercenaries." For the last time, the statement continues, "we warn the Muslim people of Oruzgan" to persuade their male relatives working with the "infidels" or with their "mercenaries" to disassociate themselves from them and stop spying for them. The statement promises a general amnesty for all who abide by the warning and issues guarantees for the lives and property of such people. These people should join the "mujahedin" in the "holy jihad" against "crusader forces and their mercenaries," the statement added. The statement ends with a warning that those who continue to work with foreign forces or the Afghan government will be decapitated. AT

Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said her country is against the destruction of Afghanistan's poppy crop because it accounts for over 50 percent of the country's GDP, Islamabad's "The News" reported on March 5. She said that Pakistan instead advocates buying the entire poppy yield in Afghanistan and destroying it. Aslam added that while long-term strategies are necessary to tackle Afghanistan's increasingly worse poppy problem, the option to buy the crop is a short-term suggestion proposed by Pakistan as "the harvest increases every year." Afghanistan is providing 90 percent of the world's poppies, Aslam said, adding that no "one appears to be ready to tackle this problem" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," September 12, 2006). AT

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on March 5 that Iran will soon decide whether or not to participate in a security conference in Baghdad, though he said any bilateral meeting with U.S. representatives at the meeting could only follow a formal U.S. request for talks, ISNA reported. The conference is slated to open on March 10, and is meant to bring Iraq's neighbors and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council together to discuss ways of establishing security in Iraq. Mottaki said the meeting of Iraq's neighbors and "some of the people who may [also] be invited" must seek to benefit Iraqis and be in line with their wishes. He said that the "framework of Iraq's neighbors" must be maintained for the conference, perhaps meaning that Iraq's neighbors should be the primary protagonists of the conference, and he added that decisions should not be made for Iraq from the outside. He said a meeting of the deputy foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring countries is due to be held on March 10, followed by another meeting that would include the envoys of the UN Security Council powers. Iran, he said, is still finalizing its decision on whether to send a deputy foreign minister to the second meeting. VS

The UN envoys of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council met in New York on March 5 to discuss increasing the sanctions imposed on Iran on December 23, in response to Tehran's refusal to halt sensitive nuclear fuel-making activities, Reuters reported. The issue "has moved to the Security Council," Reuters quoted U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns as saying the same day after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The report said Great Britain is expected to produce a draft of a new sanctions resolution. The UN powers have been discussing enhanced sanctions even though differences have remained between them, with China and Russia showing greater reluctance to punish Iran. Reuters cited unnamed U.S. and European officials as saying that enhanced sanctions may include enlarging the list of Iranian officials with frozen assets abroad, a travel ban on Iranian officials involved in Iran's atomic program, and an expanded list of sensitive material and technology that Iran may neither import nor export. Legislator Reza Talai-Nik, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran that Iran should ready itself "for the possibility of any choice by the enemy" regarding Iran, in spite of the "difficulties and restrictions America" has in intensifying pressures on Iran over its nuclear file, ILNA reported. He said Iran must be firm but realistic in defending its "nuclear rights." VS

Expediency Council Chairman and former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the press in Tehran on March 5 that the "experimental" period is over for the government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who was elected president in June 2005, and that it has had enough time to honor the electoral pledges it made, the daily "Etemad" reported on March 6. Rafsanjani spoke at a press conference marking the new term of the Expediency Council, the fourth since 1979. He said the Expediency Council, which has some supervisory and some arbitrating duties, decided for a while after Ahmadinejad's election not to openly object to certain government economic policies and spending plans that he observed differ with Iran's mid- and long-term economic policies, so the government "could realize its slogans and honor its promises. Right now the experimental period for the government is over, and [Expediency] Council supervision must become more serious," "Etemad" reported. He said the recently ratified state budget for 2007-08 is even more dependent on oil revenues than the budgets for the two previous years. Iran's stated policy has for some years been to reduce its dependence on oil revenues. VS

Thousands of workers at a firm in Shushtar, in the southwestern Khuzestan Province, went on strike on March 4 to protest the nonpayment of their wages for the past two months, Radio Farda reported, citing a witness and ILNA. Ali Alizadeh, the secretary of the Shushtar House of Workers, the state-affiliated labor union, told Radio Farda that a "high percentage" of some 12,000 employees of the firm Kesht and Sanaat-i Shushtar, which apparently produces manufactured goods, have gone on strike. Alizadeh said the protests are the result of "disorganized" privatization and mismanagement, a changing board of directors, and the refusal of banks to honor unspecified pledges. He said the firm has been loss-making for years and is now unable to pay wages. He did not say if the firm was privatized before or is in the process of privatization, though he said such confusion is evident in "many productive and industrial units in Iran." Alizadeh told Radio Farda that the protest was peaceful, and local authorities have taken unspecified measures to address the workers' grievances. VS

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres discussed the plight of Iraqi refugees during an address at the March 4 Arab League meeting in Cairo, saying Arab states must play a more active role in the UNHCR's work, the UN website reported on March 5. "From its very beginnings, from the holy Koran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, Islamic law has considered the question of asylum at length and has given the asylum seeker prominence, dignity, and respect. A community's moral duty and behavior always included how it responded to appeals for asylum," Guterres told Arab ministers. He acknowledged the "extreme generosity" of Jordan and Syria, who together currently host nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees. He said the UNHCR has not done enough to help those two countries in dealing with the Iraqi refugee crisis, which he called "the biggest displacement crisis in the Middle East" since 1948, with one in eight Iraqis having fled their homes. KR

UNHCR chief Guterres noted the rising intolerance and xenophobia in some parts of the world in his address to Arab League ministers on March 4, the UN reported. "Even in the most developed societies, we see the reemergence of racism, xenophobia, and that brand of populism which always tries to generate confusion in public opinion between refugees, migrants, and even terrorists," Guterres said. "Let us be perfectly clear: refugees are not terrorists; they are first and foremost victims of terror," he added. Guterres said the UNHCR will convene an international conference on the humanitarian needs of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons on April 17 in Geneva. KR

Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, arrived in Syria on March 5 for a "several days' visit," Iraqi and Syrian media reported. Al-Hashimi met with Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shar'a to discuss Syrian support for Iraqi security, SANA reported. They also discussed ways to strengthen cooperation "in all areas to serve their mutual interests," the state-run news agency reported. Al-Hashimi was accompanied by several Iraqi parliamentarians, the culture minister, and a representative from the Iraqi Accordance Front, the coalition to which his party belongs. KR

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the March 4 raid of an Interior Ministry intelligence building by Iraqi and U.K. forces that led to the escape of some 30 detainees, international media reported on March 5. The raid on the Iraqi National Intelligence and Data Directorate building came after British forces received information that detainees were being tortured. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported that the British and Iraqi troops confiscated weapons, directorate files and documents, and released as many as 53 prisoners. Hasan al-Zarqani, an official in charge of foreign relations for Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, criticized the raid, telling Al-Jazeera television on March 5 that multinational forces "do not respect the sovereignty of the [Iraqi] government." He contended that the raid sought to incite sectarian violence and internal trouble. He also claimed that the United States wants to "implement a grand plan to control the sources of Iraqi oil." KR

LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov said his company is ready to begin an exploration and development project in Iraq's Western Qurna-2 field within 26 months should the Iraqi government approve LUKoil's proposals, ITAR-TASS reported on March 6. "I hope that the Iraqi government will take rationality of our proposals at their true value," Alekperov said. The oil field, considered Iraq's largest with reserves of around 6 billion tons, is located northwest of Al-Basrah. Meanwhile, Chinese oil officials will meet with Iraqi government representatives in Baghdad on March 6 to discuss Hussein-era contracts, Reuters reported on March 5. Before the 2003 Iraq war, China reached a $700 million deal with Saddam Hussein's government to develop the Al-Ahdab oil field, also located in southern Iraq. KR