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Newsline - May 4, 2007

Three pro-Kremlin youth groups announced on May 3 that they will end their protests outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, citing the fact that Estonia's ambassador to Russia, Marina Kaljurand, has left the country. "We have stopped blockading the embassy because there is nobody there," Nashi leader Vasily Yakemenko told RIA Novosti. Yakemenko called Kaljurand's departure "a victory" for Nashi but "not a complete one," adding that Nashi activists will continue to stage actions "aimed at stopping repressions by the Estonian authorities against the Russian population [in Estonia]." An unnamed Nashi activist told RIA Novosti that "Kaljurand chose one of the two options given to her" -- to apologize for the Estonian government's relocation of the Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn, or "leave the country." A representative of the Mestnye youth group told RIA Novosti it too will end its protest outside Estonia's Embassy, as will Young Russia, the youth organization of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, according to "The Moscow Times" on May 4. Despite the pro-Kremlin youth groups' claims of victory, the Estonian Foreign Ministry said that Kaljurand left Moscow on vacation and not for any "political or health reason." The daily "Kommersant" on May 4 suggested her departure has simply provided the pro-Kremlin youth groups with "a pretext to fulfill the demands of the world community: the United States, NATO, and Germany, which is chairing the European Union, [on May 3] demanded that Russia end 'impermissible coercive actions' at the Estonian Embassy" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). JB

Russian officials on May 3 criticized the European Union, NATO, and the United States for their stance on the Russian-Estonian row over the removal of the Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier by telephone that backing Estonia, an EU and NATO member, "contradicts European values and culture," AFP reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned envoys from Germany, the European Union, and Portugal to express "deep bewilderment" about what it termed the "lack of a principled assessment by the European Union of the actions of the Tallinn government," "The Moscow Times" reported on May 4. Interfax on May 3 quoted Russia's representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Aleksei Borodavkin, as saying that the "gross violations of human rights in Estonia that we have witnessed recently are the result of indifference and connivance on the part of the EU and NATO -- organizations that have granted their membership to a country trampling upon values that form the foundations of European culture and democracy." Borodavkin added, "Instead of condemning the illegal, inhuman actions of the Estonian authorities, concern was expressed over the peaceful demonstration by Russian citizens outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow." In a telephone conversation with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on May 3, Lavrov demanded "immediate access" to the mainly ethnic Russian protesters arrested during the rioting in Tallinn and other Estonian cities that followed the removal of the Soviet war memorial, as well as a probe into the murder of Dmitry Ganin, an ethnic Russia stabbed to death during the rioting, RIA Novosti reported. In his phone conversation with Paet, Lavrov "called on the Estonian leadership to refrain from provocative actions that may further exacerbate the situation." Paet earlier accused Russia of "virtual, psychological, and real" attacks on Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). JB

Andrus Ansip said on May 3 that any Russian boycott of Estonian goods would fail because many products originating in Estonia have a European Union label, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 4. "The call to boycott Estonian goods in Russia is doomed to fail as the goods sold there do not carry the label 'Made in Estonia,'" Ansip told reporters. He also downplayed the effect of an interruption of Russia oil deliveries to Estonian transit ports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). "The oil transit sector does not employ a lot of people, the number of possible job losses would be modest, and the impact to the government budget would be practically nonexistent," he said. Ansip added that about 80 percent of foreign investments in Estonia derive from Finland and Sweden, while Russia contributes just 2 percent to the figure. Russian politicians and businesspeople have called for a boycott of Estonian goods. According to "The Moscow Times," some stores have begun pulling Estonian-made products from their shelves, and supermarket chains in Kaliningrad and Bashkortostan said they will no longer sell Estonian products. Oliver Kruuda, the owner of Estonia's largest confectionary producer Kalev, told Interfax that Russian companies have stopped buying its candy. JB

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on May 3 that Russia will maintain its moratorium on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) until all NATO countries ratify a revised version of the pact, which means it will no longer inform Western partners of possible troop movements across its territory. "We announced a moratorium and will no longer be informing anyone about the movement of troops on our own territory," Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying during a visit to Bryansk. "Until such time as our partners ratify this treaty, we will be observing a moratorium." On April 26, President Vladimir Putin announced a moratorium on Russian observance of the CFE Treaty, which imposes strict limits on the deployment of tanks, troops, and other forces between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, 2007). JB

The Rosneft state oil company became Russia's largest oil company on May 3, when it won an auction for the Tomskneft oil production unit and other East Siberian assets of the bankrupt Yukos oil company. According to Prime-Tass, Rosneft affiliate Neft-Aktiv paid 175.7 billion rubles ($6.82 billion) for the assets, which, along with Tomskneft, included Yukos's stakes in the East Siberian Oil and Gas Company (VSNK), the Angarsk Petrochemical Company (ANKhK), the Achinsk and Strezhnevoi oil refineries, the Angarsk Polymer Plant, the Yeniseineftegaz oil and gas services company, several oil-product retailers (Irkutsknefteprodukt, Buryatnefteprodukt, Khantymansiisknefteprodukt, and Tomsknefteprodukt), and electric power utilities (Tomskenergo, Tomsk Distribution Company, and Tomsk Power Supply Company). Neft-Aktiv outbid a company called Unitex, which is widely believed to have been fronting in the auction for Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly. The business daily "Vedomosti" reported on May 2 that Rosneft and Gazprom agreed to divide Yukos's East Siberian assets between themselves, regardless of who won the auction. Rosneft's chairman is Igor Sechin, the deputy Kremlin administration chief widely seen as the informal leader of the "siloviki" faction of former security-service officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, widely seen as a leading contender to succeed President Vladimir Putin, is chairman of Gazprom. JB

Kabardino-Balkaria Republic Interior Minister Yury Tomchak announced on May 3 at a meeting with religious leaders that his ministry will establish a public council that will serve as a forum for discussion, RIA Novosti reported. Tomchak also said that the ministry will sign "soon" a cooperation agreement with the republican heads of various religious communities, reported. Mufti Anas Pshikhachev noted that over the past year the republican Interior Ministry has taken measures to address the Muslim Spiritual Board's grievances, but he warned at the same time that the danger of Islamic extremism still exists. Police reprisals against young Muslims under Tomchak's predecessor, Khachim Shogenov, were a key factor behind the October 2005 attacks by young militants on police and security facilities in Nalchik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13 and 14, 2005, March 20, 2006, and February 2, 2007). On April 25, quoted KBR presidential administration head Albert Kadjarov as saying that the republican authorities have earmarked 4.5 million rubles ($174,585) for the construction of two mosques in the suburbs of Nalchik. Construction was scheduled to begin in early May. LF

Representatives of three Armenian opposition groups -- Hanrapetutiun (Republic), Nor Zhamanakner (New Times), and the Impeachment bloc headed by supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian -- reaffirmed at a rally in Yerevan on May 3 their intention to convene mass protests in the event that the May 12 parliamentary ballot is rigged, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hanrapetutiun Chairman and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian vowed that "if they again ignore our will, if they trample on our rights, if they again look down on us, ...we will rise up and gather in this square on May 13.... We will march ahead of you, we won't hesitate, we won't run away." Speaking at Yerevan State University on April 27, Armenian President Robert Kocharian warned that the authorities will act "appropriately" to quash any opposition attempt to mobilize dissatisfied voters and "undermine...political stability" in the wake of the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, 2007). LF

Elcin Beybutov, who heads the Azerbaijani Committee Against Torture, sent an official protest on May 2 to Azerbaijani Interior Ministry Ramil Usubov in connection with the torture and beating of detainees by police in Baku, the daily reported on May 3. Beybutov asked Usubov to intervene to put an end to such abuse. LF

The Abkhaz authorities released on May 3 the three Georgian students apprehended on March 1 for having allegedly illegally crossed the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press and reported on May 4. The Abkhaz authorities earlier said the three would be released only after Georgia handed back David Sigua, an election official in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, who was detained three months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7 and April 30, 2007). Georgian oppositionist Paata Zakareishvili told Caucasus Press on May 4 that the Abkhaz released the three students in exchange for information on Sigua's whereabouts. Meanwhile, on May 4 posted a statement by Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, calling on the Georgian authorities to release Sigua as soon as possible and not to "abduct" any further Abkhaz citizens. LF

Senior members of the ruling National Movement-Democrats parliament faction traveled on May 3 to the village of Kurta in the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia where Dmitry Sanakoyev, the pro-Tbilisi leader of South Ossetia's minority Georgian community, has established an alternative government, Caucasus Press reported. Sanakoyev expressed appreciation of the plan unveiled in March by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to establish a temporary South Ossetian administration with which Tbilisi hopes to negotiate a viable settlement of the conflict between the central Georgian government and the breakaway republic (see "Georgia: Tbilisi Ups The Ante Over South Ossetia,", March 29, 2007). The Georgian parliamentarians were quoted as saying they hoped to meet also with de facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, but Kokoity's press service quoted him as saying that while he is ready for "constructive dialogue," the parliamentarians' treatment of Sanakoyev as his equal "only aggravates the situation," Caucasus Press reported. It is not clear whether anger at the Georgian visit was behind the South Ossetians' refusal to permit a group of Georgian Interior Ministry officials to enter Tskhinvali on May 3 for previously scheduled talks with their South Ossetian counterparts and OSCE representatives. The Georgian Interior Ministry subsequently issued a statement saying there is little chance of establishing cooperation between the two ministries, Caucasus Press reported. LF

An unnamed official of the Kazakh Environmental Protection Ministry announced on May 3 that the international Tengizchevroil consortium has agreed to pay $8 million for the ecological damage it has caused along the country's Caspian Sea shore, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The consortium, led by the Chevron oil company and including Exxon Mobil and the Kazakh state energy company Kazmunaigaz, is developing Kazakhstan's offshore Tengiz oil field. RG

The Kazakh National Security Council announced on May 3 that significant progress has been made in combating the activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization outlawed as an Islamist terrorist group, Interfax reported. In a report released in Astana, the National Security Council said that since the beginning of this year, some 141 Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters have "quit the organization" and "have surrendered a considerable amount" of "extremist" literature. The report further noted the capture of several of the group's senior leaders in Kazakhstan, adding that many are now actively supporting efforts to seize other members of the organization. National Security Committee Chairman Amangeldy Shabdarbaev recently claimed in a newspaper interview that over 100 members have voluntarily left Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates the restoration of an Islamic caliphate throughout Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 2, 2007). RG

In a statement to journalists in Bishkek on May 3, U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Marie Yovanovitch said a U.S. serviceman involved in the shooting death of a Kyrgyz citizen at a U.S. air base has returned to the United States, AKIpress and ITAR-TASS reported. An official Kyrgyz investigation determined that the serviceman, Zachary Hatfield, was responsible for the death of the Kyrgyz man at a checkpoint at the Manas Air Base in December 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006). The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office has recently filed a formal extradition request with U.S. authorities to allow Hatfield to stand trial in Kyrgyzstan on murder charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007). According to the terms of a 2001 Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) governing the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan, U.S. military personnel stationed at the Manas Air Base have diplomatic immunity and are only subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Yovanovitch noted, however, that an investigation into the tragic incident may be initiated in the United States. RG

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour met on May 3 with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat, according to the website. During the meeting, Arbour discussed future cooperation and the establishment of a formal dialogue between Turkmenistan and the UN human rights body. Berdymukhammedov briefed Arbour and the UN permanent coordinator in Turkmenistan, Richard Young, on efforts to strengthen civil society and social and economic reforms in the country. Completing a tour of the region, Arbour spent three days in Turkmenistan after visits to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, 2007).

The chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Goran Lennmarker, met on May 3 with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov and several parliamentarians in Tashkent, according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. The OSCE official discussed plans to establish formal cooperation between the two sides, but the human rights situation in Uzbekistan was reportedly not raised in the meeting. Lennmarker also visited Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan as part of a broader tour of the Central Asian region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). RG

The U.S. State Department expressed concern on May 3 over the trial and sentencing of Uzbek human rights activist Umida Niyazova, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The statement from Washington said the United States was "disturbed" by the way Niyazova's trial was conducted, and said the charges against her were "politically motivated." The U.S. statement echoes similar criticism of the case by human rights groups, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which have condemned her detention and prosecution as an effort to silence critics. Rights groups say the case against Niyazova is connected to her articles reporting on the May 2005 killing of protesters by security forces in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon. A Tashkent court recently sentenced Niyazova to seven years in prison after a two-day closed trial in which she was found guilty of illegally crossing the Uzbek border, distributing materials that threaten public order, and smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20 and May 2, 2007). RG

A district court in Minsk on May 3 convicted Dzmitry Fedaruk, a leader of the unregistered opposition group Youth Front (Malady Front), for organizing an unsanctioned march during the sanctioned Chornobyl Way demonstration on April 26 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2007), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The court fined Fedaruk 930,000 Belarusian rubles ($435). "People who had gathered for the Chornobyl Way had to get back home somehow after the end of the demonstration," Fedaruk told RFE/RL. "Since the entire area was encircled by special forces and secret services, we decided to go in a avoid being caught by them. Now I've been accused of organizing an unauthorized march." Fedaruk and four other Youth Front activists are facing criminal prosecution on separate charges of acting on behalf of an unregistered organization under an article of the Criminal Code that carries a prison sentence of up to two years. JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on May 3 called on President Viktor Yushchenko to renew their talks on how to solve the ongoing political crisis, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yanukovych noted that such talks should also involve the parliamentary speaker, Constitutional Court judges, and representatives of different political forces. But Yanukovych also charged that Yushchenko violated an earlier agreement by issuing a second decree on the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and calling early elections. According to Yanukovych, he and Yushchenko had agreed not to make any decisions during the course of negotiations on the crisis. Yanukovych also revealed that he has not been able to get in touch with Yushchenko since April 26, when the president issued his second decree on early elections. JM

President Yushchenko on May 4 appointed Vasyl Kostytskyy as a Constitutional Court judge to replace Syuzanna Stanik, who was dismissed earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007), Ukrainian media reported. Kostytskyy, who has a doctorate in law, was a deputy environment minister in 1991-93 and a deputy finance minister in 2004-05. On May 3, Yushchenko appointed Stepan Havrysh as a Constitutional Court judge, replacing Valeriy Pshenichnyy, whom he also dismissed earlier this week. Havrysh previously served on the panel of the Constitutional Court for a short stint from December 2004 to January 2005, having been appointed by former President Leonid Kuchma. Party of Regions lawmaker Yuriy Myroshnychenko argued on May 3 that the appointment of Havrysh is invalid because the law on the Constitutional Court stipulates that the relevant presidential decree must also be signed by the prime minister and the justice minister, which was not the case. JM

A meeting of the six-country Contact Group heading efforts to resolve the status of Kosova ended on May 2 without official statements, but reports by Voice of America and international news agencies say U.S. officials believe differences are "not insurmountable." The reports cite unnamed officials close to U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the third-most-senior figure in the State Department. One official pointed to a statement by Burns that the UN's plan for the contested region will soon go to the UN Security Council in the form of a resolution as "indicative of the fact that we [U.S. officials] do think that differences or concerns that the Russians have can be bridged." Russia has previously threatened to veto a resolution that ignores Belgrade's demand that Kosova should remain part of Serbia, albeit with substantial autonomy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2007). The leaders of the United States and the EU on May 1 called for a swift solution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). To pass, the plan requires Russia and China not to veto the plan, and a total of nine votes from the 15-member council. The council includes the United States, five European states, three African countries (Congo, Ghana, and South Africa), and also Indonesia, Panama, Peru, and Qatar. AG

The author of the UN's proposed settlement for Kosova, Martti Ahtisaari, has insisted that his plan is the only viable possibility, AFP reported on May 3. Ahtisaari, who was in London but did not attend the meeting of the Contact Group, added that "I would find it extremely difficult to think that today's Russia would like to send a message to the world, by opposing the implementation of the plan in the Security Council, that any dictator like [late Serbian President] Slobodan Milosevic can deal with their citizens as he or she likes and hide behind sovereignty." The UN has administered the nominally Serbian province since 1999, when NATO-led troops intervened to halt fighting between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian security forces and the accompanying mass movement of refugees. Ahtisaari, who led talks between Prishtina and Belgrade for over a year before submitting his recommendation, said further negotiations would be pointless (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5 and March 8, 2007).

The head of a recent fact-finding mission dispatched to Kosova by the UN Security Council, Belgian UN Ambassador Johan Verbeke, told the council on May 2 that "sustained efforts" would be needed to build a multiethnic society in Kosova, according to a UN press release issued after the meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2007). In a statement that amplifies comments he made as the mission left Kosova, Verbeke said that all the Kosovar Serbs with whom the mission talked "firmly opposed" independence from Serbia, while the ethnic Albanians "expressed clear and unambiguous support" for the supervised independence recommended by UN envoy Ahtisaari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5 and March 8, 2007). While the Albanian community is confident about the future, Serbs are "more apprehensive," he said. Physical isolation also separates the two communities, Verbeke noted. He highlighted the low number of Kosovar Serbs who have returned to the region since 1999 -- put at 2 to 5 percent by authorities in Belgrade -- as a key issue for Serbia, which views this as evidence that the UN administration in Kosova has failed to meet the mandate under which it assumed responsibility for Kosova. Again, both sides differ in their view on whether "a definition of the status of Kosovo would facilitate or hinder the returns process," Verbeke said. AG

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic on May 3 criticized a decision by the Estonian government to move a memorial to Soviet soldiers as disrespect for "the best pages of European history," the Serbian news agency FoNet reported the same day. Draskovic implied the decision to transfer the statue from the center of Tallinn to a war cemetery was provocatively timed, saying in an official statement that the decision "is being implemented ahead of May 9, when the whole of Europe and the world will celebrate the victory over fascism, a victory paid for by tens of millions of victims, primarily by the lives of Soviet soldiers." Draskovic added that "we in Serbia will always lay wreathes on the tombs of those Red Army soldiers who fell for the liberation of Belgrade and Serbia from Nazi occupiers." Draskovic's statement is a sign of solidarity with Russia at a time when Russia is the strongest supporter of Serbia in its opposition to the UN proposal granting independence to Kosova. AG

Serbian war crimes investigators intend within weeks to open up the site of a suspected mass grave for Kosovar Albanians, Reuters reported on May 3. The office of the Serbian war crimes prosecutor said digging should begin on June 5 at the site, which lies near the Serbian town of Raska and close to Serbia's border with Kosova. Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for the war crimes prosecutor, said the victims are thought to be ethnic Albanians. According to a Radio-Television Kosova report in late April, officials of the International Red Cross and the International Commission for the Missing Persons identified the site as a possible grave in April, though locals have reportedly harbored suspicions for some time that a quarry near a village close to Raska was used as a grave. AG

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) warned on May 3 that freedom of expression in Serbia is being jeopardized by recent cases of intimidation. The statement, issued to mark World Press Freedom Day, is the only one made about an individual country on the OSCE website. The head of the OSCE mission to Serbia, Hans Ola Urstad, said that the unresolved killings of Dada Vujasinovic in 1994, Slavko Curuvija in 1999, and Milan Pantic in 2001, and recent cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists, could "lead to self-censorship by journalists who fear the state is not able to protect them." The statement does not indicate the cases of intimidation referred to, but a prominent columnist, Dejan Anastasijevic, was the target of a grenade attack on April 13, and Dinko Gruhonjic, the head of the Independent Journalist Association of Vojvodina and the head of the Vojvodina branch of the news agency Beta, received anonymous death threats from neo-Nazis in late March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16, 2007). Local media reported on May 4 that the Journalists Association of Serbia (UNS) and Trade Union of Serbian Journalists (SNS) marked World Press Freedom Day by holding a rally and calling for the government to classify attacks on journalists as attacks on officials. The Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS) warned that journalists are viewed as "disposable" and that freedom of the press is diminishing. Local media on May 4 also quoted Serbian President Boris Tadic as saying the latest attacks on and threats against journalists are a warning that Serbia must ensure as soon as possible that its institutions enable a free, responsible, and critical media to operate. AG

One of Croatia's leading journalists, Denis Latin, on May 3 refused to accept an award from the UNS in recognition of his contribution to media freedom, local media reported the same day. Latin said he decided to reject the award only after colleagues in Belgrade told him the head of the association, Nino Brajovic, had been a "warmonger" as a wartime reporter for Serbian state television in the 1990s and that his work helped mask war crimes committed by ethnic Serbs in the eastern city of Vukovar in 1991. Brajovic dismissed the charge and attributed Latin's decision to political considerations, Serbian media reported on May 4. Latin hosts his own program, "Latinica," on national television in Croatia. The program, which has been aired since 1993, has been heavily criticized by right wingers in the past. AG

Bosnia-Herzegovina's state-level security minister, Tarik Sadovic, has dismissed an assessment by the U.S. State Department that Bosnia is a "weak state...vulnerable to exploitation as a terrorist safe haven or as a potential staging ground for terrorist operations in Europe," the daily "Dnevni avaz" reported on May 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). Sadovic said that, in 2005 and 2006, there was a combined total of just two terrorism-related incidents, a number too small to justify Washington's conclusion. One of the incidents was the August 2006 bombing of the tomb of the Bosnian Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11 and February 16, 2007). Sadovic also accused the international media of falsely suggesting that Bosnia is host to a burgeoning Islamic terrorist movement. He dismissed that portrayal as "ideologically colored and calculated," continuing, "The fact that Muslims make up the majority in Bosnia cannot be a reason to smear Bosnia's name and force the country to justify itself constantly." AG

The European Union's ambassador to Albania, Helmut Lohan, has suggested that the EU opposes snap elections being held in Albania, regional media reported on May 2. Lohan said, "Albania needs a period of political stability to move forward in accomplishing reforms under the Stabilization and Association Agreement," a reference to the preaccession agreement that the EU signs with candidates for membership . Lohan was speaking with the minister responsible for Albania's integration with the EU, Majlinda Bregu. Opposition figures have suggested they will push for early elections if the next president does not come from the opposition. The Albanian parliament is due to elect a new president in June, and Prime Minister Sali Berisha has acknowledged that his Democrat Party's candidate, Bamir Topi, will need support from the opposition if he is to secure the 84 votes needed from the 140-member assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9 and 14, 2007). Berisha said on May 1 that he is willing to enter talks with the opposition over the position, the dailies "Koha jone" and "Shekulli" reported on May 2. However, the Socialist-led opposition itself has yet to decide on a candidate, with deep-running tensions emerging over the interest expressed in the post by Fatos Nano, a former Socialist prime minister who has been critical of the current party leader's centralizing plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 11, 2007). The last parliamentary elections were held in July 2005. AG

The U.S. State Department's annual review of counterterrorism efforts around the world, issued on May 2, argues that the separatist Moldovan region of Transdniester is "a potential area for terrorist recruitment." That assessment reiterates a conclusion reached in previous years. However, the report said that "to date" the U.S. Embassy in Moldova "has not obtained any information about known terrorist organizations or terrorists operating from or within this region." U.S. concerns center on Moldova's "sizable Arab student population," because "many often move in and out of [Transdniester], an area where the Moldovan police and security services do not have the authority to operate," and because of endemic corruption, easy access to false documents, and a lack of government resources mean that "many" Arab students remain illegally in Moldova after their visas expire. The report does not comment on accusations repeated frequently over the past 15 years that Transdniester has acted as an entrepot for illegal arms trading. AG

The Association of Independent Press (API) and the Independent Journalism Center (ICJ) in Moldova believe many of the country's national broadcasters and newspapers are favoring the ruling Communist Party in the run-up to local elections, the news agency Infotag reported on May 2. A two-week survey conducted by a group funded in part by the Eurasia Foundation, the Civic Coalition for a Free and Correct Election, concluded that, of the 10 television and radio channels monitored, four were "directly or indirectly" favoring the Communists, in part by ignoring the opposition. Among the four were state-run television and radio channels. The Infotag report names three broadcasters that tried to be balanced or carried criticism of President Vladimir Voronin, but did not comment on the remaining three. At a news conference on May 2, representatives of the API and ICJ cited three national papers that "are directly or indirectly taking the side of the ruling party," while one national paper "favors" an opposition coalition and another "actively promotes" another opposition party. They said two local papers "favor" the opposition. In all, 16 national and local newspapers were monitored. The latest opinion polls show the Communists with a commanding 60 percent lead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2007). AG

Many commentators have suggested that the Serbian-dominated north of Kosova will break off from that province and become a part of Serbia if the Albanian majority declares independence.

The idea of partitioning Kosova along ethnic lines is nothing new. Some Serbian officials and academics toyed with the idea in the early decades of the 20th century as a way of dealing with the Serbs' declining demographic position there. More recent partition projects were associated with the Serbian Academy of Sciences in the mid-1980s.

In addition to securing Serbian-majority areas and cultural and religious sites for the Serbian state, the partition planners have generally sought to keep control of as much of the province's mineral wealth for Belgrade as possible.

Some forms of de facto partition already exist in Kosova. In the 1970s and early 1980s, when ethnic Albanian politicians held sway in communist Kosova after decades of tough Serbian rule, many Serbs left the province. They said they were victims of intimidation and various forms of pressure to sell their land, although the Albanians claimed the Serbs were happy to take the money and move to better farms in Vojvodina.

In the wake of the 1998-99 conflict, much of the Kosovar Serbian population fled their homes for Serbia proper or for what was emerging as a heavily Serbian territory north of the Ibar River, which divides Mitrovica into northern Serbian and southern Albanian halves. Various Serbian enclaves remain throughout Kosova, but their existence is often precarious.

Some Serbian refugees and displaced persons probably will never go back to their former homes in what are now heavily Albanian areas like Pristina. The Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign of 1999 in particular made heavy use of "human intelligence" on the ground that only local Serbs could supply. Many Serbs who cooperated with former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's security forces subsequently fled because they feared the wrath of their Albanian neighbors.

Those Albanians also remember that it was the Serbs of Kosova who formed the bedrock of support for Milosevic in his rise to power in the mid-1980s and subsequently helped keep him there.

There has, moreover, been little communication across ethnic lines since 1999. The younger generations of Serbs and Albanians literally do not speak each other's languages because they never experienced the joint school or military systems that Yugoslav-era generations did.

Traditionally, few Serbs bothered to learn much Albanian, but prior to the late 1980s, most Kosovar Albanians with anything more than very basic schooling knew some Serbo-Croatian. All Kosovar males who served in the Yugoslav military learned at least enough Serbo-Croatian to conduct basic conversations and probably developed their skills further if they were posted to Croatia or Bosnia or somewhere else far from home.

The international community has long ruled out partition as an option, saying that Kosova's future will be determined for the province as a whole. Some observers have warned that if foreign powers ever do allow the Serbian north to secede, they will pave the way for similar partition attempts in the Presevo Valley, Macedonia, or Bosnia-Herzegovina, thereby opening a Pandora's box of Balkan conflicts.

Whatever the merits of a Balkan domino theory might be, there is at least one realistic scenario for Kosova that leaves open the possibility of partition in the not-too-distant future. According to that view, Russia will continue to stall on any serious consideration by the UN Security Council of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan for conditional independence for Kosova. Moscow will go on calling for holding debates, arranging fact-finding trips, appointing new negotiators, and doing whatever else can be done to delay things.

In the meantime, according to this scenario, the Kosovar Albanians will become increasingly impatient. Before young hotheads or organized radicals take matters into their own hands and renew the violence that shook the province in March 2004, the political leaders will issue a unilateral declaration of independence. This will be endorsed as the only practical alternative to protracted instability by several members of the international community, including probably the United States, Great Britain, Turkey, and some other states that have already indicated their support for Kosovar independence.

Most of the EU member states will bicker among themselves and not be able to act together, as has often happened in the past. Serbia will use its old connections with the Nonaligned Movement and its corps of experienced diplomats to ensure strong support for its position among the developing countries. This could prove useful, not only in the Security Council but also in the General Assembly, if and when Pristina seeks membership in that body. The Kosovars have few seasoned diplomats to plead their case except for publisher and negotiator Veton Surroi.

At this point, so the theory goes, Russia and Serbia will make it clear that they have been stalling in hopes of triggering a declaration of independence by the Kosovars without Security Council approval. Serbia will then invoke the council's Resolution 1244, which specifies that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia. (Yugoslavia was changed to Serbia in the text after Milosevic's rump Yugoslavia ceased to be.) As former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has noted, the Western countries never meant the reference to Kosova being part of Yugoslavia seriously but simply included it in 1244 as a sop to Russia and Greece.

But that will not make any difference at this stage. According to this scenario, Belgrade, backed by Moscow and perhaps Beijing, will announce that it will invoke what it considers its rights under 1244 and send its security forces and other officials into northern Kosova to protect the Serbian population there from the "illegal" regime in the south.

The partition will then be sealed, perhaps with the assistance of foreign peacekeepers guarding the new boundary lines to prevent any direct clashes between Serbian and Kosovar Albanian forces.

The new Kosovar state will try to observe the provisions of the Ahtisaari plan and protect the Serbian enclaves and cultural properties because it knows that its international standing depends on it. But the enclaves will likely fade away as the young in particular move to the north, to Serbia proper, or even further away still. The cultural properties will probably have to be protected behind much barbed wire and guarded by French or Greek troops.

One of the lessons of the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts of the early 1990s was that Serbian populations outside Serbia had difficulty accepting the possibility that Serbs could have happy and productive lives in states that they did not control. That is clearly the case in Kosova, too, particularly after 1998-99. It is probably too much to expect that any Albanian-dominated Kosovar state would ever attract even the grudging allegiance of the province's Serbs.

Partition would be a bitter pill for the Albanians to swallow. They have said repeatedly that they will not accept it, but they might find themselves with little choice. With the political limbo of the UNMIK period behind them and a new legal system in place, they will then get on with their own lives and go into business as they have in the United States, Switzerland, Germany, or Croatia. Neither they nor their former neighbors are likely to miss each other.

Unidentified gunmen killed Hajji Abdul Sabur Farid as he was leaving his house in Kabul's Khairkhana district on May 2, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on May 3. Farid was a member of the Meshrano Jirga (Elders Council) from Kapisa Province, north of Kabul. In 1992, Farid briefly served as Afghan prime minister as a member of the Hizb-e Islami party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, while his party's fighters were bombarding the capital. A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yusof, denied any involvement in Farid's killing, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on May 3. No one has claimed responsibility for the lawmaker's killing. AT

Taliban militants have rejected pleas by the French nongovernmental group Terre d'Enfance to release a French national and three Afghans who were kidnapped in early April, AIP reported on May 3. On April 28, the hostage takers made a goodwill gesture of releasing one captive, a French woman, prompting calls for them to release the rest of the group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5 and 30, 2007). Qari Mohammad Yusof told AIP on behalf of the Taliban that the "High Council of the Taliban has already taken the decision" that French troops should withdraw from Afghanistan and the Afghan government should release an unstated number of Taliban prisoners in exchange for the French hostage. Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who is holding the remaining captives, has indicated that for each hostage he will demand the release of three Taliban prisoners from Afghan jails, Milan's "Corriere della Sera" reported on May 3. Dadullah added that Afghan President Hamid "Karzai is prepared to do this in secret, but we want it to be known publicly." In March, Dadullah's group released an Italian journalist in exchange for five high-value Taliban prisoners, but killed two Afghans captured along with the Italian (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 27, 2007). AT

President Karzai visited on May 3 a mass grave discovered near Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan Province, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "Yesterday's injustices should not be repeated today," Karzai said while visiting the mass grave, which reportedly contains the remains of more than 800 people killed during communist rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Afghan leader offered prayers for those buried in the mass grave, and laid the foundation of a monument to the victims of the communist regime. AT

Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and other members of a Pakistani commission for the "peace jirga" (council) arrived in Kabul on May 3, Islamabad's PTV reported. The peace jirga -- officially known as the Jirga for Regional Peace and Prosperity -- is intended to engage tribes from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border to stop terrorism and militancy in the two countries. The council was proposed by Kabul and Islamabad after Pakistan signed a peace deal with local tribes in North Waziristan in September (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," November 7, 2006). The idea of the joint council was reportedly discussed by President Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, in a meeting in Washington in September. The Pakistani delegation was invited to Kabul by the head of the Afghan commission for the peace jirga, Sayyed Ahmad Gailani. AT

Unnamed senior diplomats of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- the 5+1 powers -- met in London on May 2 and issued a warning that Iran may face a third set of UN sanctions if it does not curb its production of nuclear fuel, agencies reported. The UN Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran -- in December and March -- over its refusal to curb its nuclear program, which Western powers fear could lead to the production of nuclear weapons. Iran says it will continue to pursue and expand its fuel-making operations, and claims its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. A British Foreign Office statement warned Iran it could face "further action" unless it complies with UN demands to halt fuel production and related activities, but it added that the six powers prefer a negotiated solution, Reuters reported. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Kerman, southeastern Iran, on May 3 that the great powers are mistaken if they think they can use bodies like the UN to "prevent Iran obtaining" nuclear technology, Reuters reported, citing Iranian state television. Unnamed Western diplomats told Reuters on May 3 that Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani, told EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana in Ankara last week that Iran has no intention of fully suspending its uranium enrichment acitivities. VS

Nuclear chief negotiator Larijani told ISNA on May 3 that "Iran's nuclear issue has its particular principles and bases, and one must find a solution on the basis of those principles." Speaking after talks in Tehran with former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, Larijani said it would have been better not to "internationalize" the debate over Iran's nuclear program. The conflict in Iraq, he added, "is an important regional subject which some international actors have entered. These dossiers should not be mixed." He added that Western powers have gained little from the two UN resolutions they have imposed on Iran. Larijani confirmed that he is scheduled to hold another meeting with the EU's Solana in "seven or eight days" at an unspecified location. He said a so-called Swiss proposal involving some enrichment suspension by Iran might be considered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). The Swiss proposals and others were on the agenda of Larijani's April 25 meeting with Solana in Ankara. "I have already said that in present conditions, any proposed plan can be discussed, unless it does not have rational conditions," Larijani said. VS

Larijani said Iran may consider talking privately to the United States to discuss security in Iraq, but not at this point, ISNA and Mehr reported. "Right now there is no question of talks with America, but in the future, if it mentions [talks], such negotiations can be held," Mehr quoted Larijani as saying. Larijani said Iran's "constant" position is that "if Iraqi leaders want our help [and say] talks would help with security and stability in Iraq, then Iran takes a positive view of talks." He said Iran has said that "we are ready to help the Iraqi government, but not through the media, because [talks on Iraq] through the media" have their "particular mechanics" and "we have said they have to act through official channels and the Americans know this very well." Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini on May 3 dismissed media speculation about a possible meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki during a conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, ISNA reported. "These meetings cannot be predicted, so let the matter take its ordinary course," he said. "Our positions are entirely clear and other parties know how to create any opportunity [for talks] they may seek," he added. VS

Iran arrested some 17 workers and labor activists between May 1 and 3, following a workers' protest on May Day in Sanandaj, in the western province of Kurdistan, Radio Farda reported on May 3. Police arrested 15 people as they violently broke up a May Day gathering, and two more in subsequent days, Radio Farda reported. Jafar Azimzadeh, a member of the Union of Expelled and Unemployed Workers, told Radio Farda on May 3 that hundreds of workers from various factories gathered outside the Labor Relations Office in Sanandaj on May 1, and police moved to disperse the crowd as one of the workers began to read out a statement. He said families of some of the arrested workers gathered outside the Kurdistan provincial governor's office in Sanandaj early on May 3 to ask for their relatives' release. Radio Farda named some of the arrested workers or members of the Union of Expelled and Unemployed Workers as Sheit Amani, Yadollah Moradi, Najmeddin Rajabi, Anvar Mafakheri, Sadiq Amjadi, and Mohieddin Rajabi. VS

World leaders have pledged $30 billion in financial commitments for Iraq through debt relief, loans, and grants, international media reported on May 3. The 74 delegations attending the conference unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming their commitment to a stable Iraq, the UN said in a statement. "This includes commitments of debt relief on the Paris Club terms from Bulgaria, China, Saudi Arabia, and Greece. It also includes financial commitments from the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, China, Denmark, and Korea, and the other key participants," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh. The International Compact with Iraq meeting set benchmarks for Iraq to achieve stability over a period of five years through political and economic reforms, including measures providing for greater participation by Sunni Arabs in the political process. The conference's final declaration, to be ratified on May 4, states that participating states will support the Iraqi government as long as it ensures "the basic right of all Iraqi citizens to participate peacefully in the political process through the country's political system," AP reported on May 4. KR

In his opening remarks at the conference on May 3, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki thanked those governments that forgave Iraqi debt, saying, "Our people will not forget this kind gesture," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Iraq's foreign debt prior to the conference stood at an estimated $50 billion. "We look forward to seeing that the international compact document will be the beginning of a new phase in Iraqi relations with all world countries, and a stemming point for exchanged and balanced ties with the world community based on mutual respect and common interests," he said. Al-Maliki continued: "The success of the international compact document requires an international commitment to it. We strongly demand support for this democratic experience and the national unity government in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the suffering and tragedies to which the Iraqi people were exposed for over 35 years of despotic rule." KR

Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television in a May 3 interview that he will soon meet with UN officials in New York to discuss a more active UN role in Iraq. Al-Rubay'i said the UN has not done enough over the past four years to help Iraq. The world body withdrew its international staff from Iraq in 2003 following the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 20, 2003). "We seek to upgrade the level of UN efforts," al-Rubay'i said, adding, "Once this conference [in Sharm el-Sheikh] is concluded, I will leave for Washington and New York for talks with the UN secretary-general on the new ways and methods that could bring about an upgrade in ties with the United Nations, and also an upgrade of UN presence in Iraq." The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on May 1 that it will soon send international staffers to a Baghdad office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). KR

Major General William Caldwell told reporters at a May 3 press briefing in Baghdad that there was some confusion as to the identity of a leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq killed earlier this week, but that this confusion has been resolved. Caldwell said Muharib Abd al-Latif al-Juburi and four other fighters were killed after resisting arrest by U.S. forces during an early morning raid on May 1 north of Baghdad. Caldwell called al-Juburi the insurgent group's "senior minister of information," adding that al-Juburi's identity has been confirmed through photos and DNA analysis. He added that multiple detainee debriefings have confirmed al-Juburi was responsible for the 2006 abduction of "Christian Science Monitor" reporter Jill Carroll, noting that debriefings also showed al-Juburi "was responsible for the propaganda [and] ransom videos" from the Carroll kidnapping. Al-Juburi was also responsible for the 2005 kidnapping of American peace activist Tom Fox, who was found dead in March 2006. KR

Asked about Iraqi Interior Ministry claims that al-Juburi was the same person as Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, Caldwell said, "We're not really sure who that [al-Baghdadi] is," adding, "There's a lot of discussion about a person called al-Baghdadi, but we absolutely have no knowledge of who that might be." KR

Meanwhile, the Islamic State of Iraq acknowledged al-Juburi is dead in a May 3 Internet statement. Calling al-Juburi by his pseudonym, Abu Abdallah al-Juburi, the group said he had fought vice since the 1980s and worked hard to spread the word of Islam "in accordance with the prophet's way." The statement acknowledged that al-Juburi acted as spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq. Regarding Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, the statement claimed the leader of the Islamic State is alive and well, adding, "If God wills something to happen to any of the leaders of the state, we would not hesitate to announce it, because we know that the banner of our jihad will not be raised without the sacrifices [of] the lives of the leaders, even before their soldiers." KR