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Newsline - June 21, 2007

Speaking in Tehran on June 20 at a meeting of foreign ministers of Caspian Sea countries, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia "does not see any threats coming from Iran," Interfax reported. He added that the United States is simply using an alleged threat from Iranian ballistic missiles as an excuse "to justify the construction of a missile shield in Europe." Referring to the stalled Russian project to construct a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, Lavrov said that Russia is "determined to fulfill its contractual obligations in full" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). The weekly "Newsweek Russia" wrote in its June 18-24 issue that "all the Russian hysteria over U.S. missile defense is a sham aimed at distracting public attention from certain [domestic] issues.... [U.S. President] George W. Bush...[makes frequent, major mistakes,] which makes it easier for the heads of other states [like President Vladimir Putin] to conceal their own." PM

Referring to a resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives calling on President Putin to solve a string of unexplained murders of journalists and offering U.S. help in doing so, the daily "Kommersant" wrote on June 20 that Russian officials are insulted by the "offer" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said Congress is just "generating anti-Russian phobias." He added that such moves are "often connected with [the U.S. lawmakers'] lack of objective information about Russia. Members of Congress obtain most of their information from two sources: radical opposition parties and equally radical nongovernmental organizations." Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued that the murders are "a question for our law-enforcement agencies investigating those cases." Anton Serous, who is a criminal investigator with the Moscow prosecutor's office, said his people are capable of investigating the March 2007 death of journalist Ivan Safronov without any outside assistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2007). But Igor Yakovenko, executive director of the Russian Union of Journalists, argued the failure to solve the murders gives rise to "the thought that the authorities sympathize with the killers, and in some cases, the people wanted by the law enforcement agencies are their own officers." "In Russia, murdering journalists is an effective way of blocking off hot issues," he added. "For example, the killing of...Safronov has practically put an end to investigative journalism in the area of semi-legal arms deals." Yakovenko suggested that the congressional "resolution is more like a ritual dance in this context." "After all, the problem isn't that our authorities are incapable of investigating murders, but the fact that they're basically unwilling to do so," he said. Referring to the recent comparison of Putin to the cartoon character Popeye by a leading U.S. congressman, the daily "Gazeta" on June 20 quoted Mikhail Margelov, who is chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, as saying those remarks were for domestic consumption and need not be taken seriously abroad. The daily quoted political analyst Aleksei Makarkin as saying Russia should respond to such statements, "otherwise, they might think we agree with their point of view." PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Voronezh on June 20 that orders for Russian-built transport and passenger aircraft are growing "like a snowball," the state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on June 21. He argued that Russia should aspire to become the third-largest producer of civilian and transport aircraft in the world by 2025, with 10-12 percent of market share, up from their current 1 percent. Ivanov praised Russian acquisitions of foreign airlines, saying such developments are "positive" and "normal" in an era of globalization. Russia's state-run United Aircraft Company (OAK) continues to seek a strong foreign partnership to modernize Russia's moribund aerospace industry, which London's "The Times" once described as a "glorious junkyard" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006, and March 5, 2007). PM

On June 20, President Putin signed a decree to "consolidate" Moscow-based Sovkomflot and Novorossiysk-based Novoship, which are Russia's two largest shipping companies, the state-run daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on June 21. The combined firm has been placed on the list of "strategic enterprises," which limits participation in them by foreign investors. Sergei Frank, who heads Sovkomflot and is a former transportation minister, said the new shipping company will be among the world's five largest, with assets approaching $5 billion. The consolidation will take about nine months to complete. The new firm will be based in St. Petersburg and operate under the name Sovkomflot, which is an acronym for Modern Commercial Fleet. The daily "Kommersant" wrote on June 21 that the two firms are major oil and energy shippers. The paper noted that risk analysts call attention to potential difficulties in managing the new company. The latest merger is in keeping with the trend under Putin for key branches of the economy to be concentrated in large state-run "vertical" corporations, which Andrei Illarionov, who is a former Putin economics adviser, and the "Financial Times" have described as a "corporate state" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, 2006, and March 23 and April 23, 2007). PM

The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on June 19: "Battle casualties in the Russian Armed Forces continue to rise. They accounted for only 10 percent of all deaths in the Armed Forces in 2006, when 57 servicemen were killed in Chechnya. In the first five months of 2007 alone, however, 30 combat casualties in Chechnya accounted for 16.3 percent of all deaths in the armed forces." The daily "Novye izvestia" wrote on June 20 that a soldier in the elite Kremlin Regiment died recently "under mysterious circumstances." The young man's parents believe he was deliberately killed as a result of the violence that plagues the military across the country. Britain's "The Economist" noted on June 2 that "each year, more Russian soldiers die outside combat than Americans die in Iraq." PM

Speaking at a press conference in Grozny on June 20, pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov rejected as untrue recent reports that young Chechen men are leaving home en masse to join the resistance, reported. Kadyrov claimed only six young men who faced criminal charges have done so. In recent weeks, Chechen resistance websites have reported that at least 350 young men, including some high-school students, have headed for the mountains to join the resistance. The website claimed on June 8 that at least 200 members of the so-called "kadyrovtsy," the various police and security agencies loyal to Kadyrov, have likewise defected to the resistance. But Daymohk on June 6 quoted an unnamed source from the resistance War Council as pointing out that keeping large numbers of resistance fighters mobilized and under arms is both unnecessary and creates logistical problems in terms of food supplies and moving around the republic undetected. For that reason, the source said, many would-be recruits are assigned to the reserve. It is not clear whether and how much military training those recruits receive before they are sent back to their families. LF

At least three and possibly as many as five men were killed on June 20 in the course of a brief shoot-out in central Grozny between Chechen traffic police and members of the Russian Defense Ministry's West battalion, Russian media reported. At least one, and possibly three more were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. The traffic police reportedly flagged down a car carrying battalion members, who then summoned colleagues. The West battalion numbers some 300 Chechen contract servicemen and is commanded by Said-Magomed Kakiyev. LF

Eleven Ingush from among the thousands who were forced to flee their homes in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion in October-November 1992 to escape reprisals at the hands of local Ossetians have sent an open letter to the head of the Moscow office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees asking to meet with him, reported on June 20. The signatories deplored the Russian authorities' failure to permit them to return to their abandoned homes and the discrimination to which they are subjected by the North Ossetian authorities. They also protested the UNHCR's alleged complicity in enabling Ossetian refugees from Georgia to resettle in houses in Prigorodny Raion that belong to Ingush displaced persons. Also on June 20, which was World Refugee Day, Aslambek Apayev, who is the Moscow Helsinki Group's North Caucasus expert, addressed an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Council of Europe High Commissioner for Refugees Thomas Hammarberg, and UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour on behalf of the Ingush displaced persons, reported. Apayev noted that although the Russian authorities have since early last year repeatedly affirmed their intention of expediting the return of the displaced Ingush to their homes, no concrete measures have been taken, and some families have been forcibly moved from the settlement of Maysky to a more distant settlement devoid of basic amenities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13 and 14, 2007). Apayev argued that the Russian authorities' inactivity constitutes a violation of the International Declaration of Human Rights and of the Council of Europe's framework convention on the protection of national minorities, and he appealed to the international community to intervene on behalf of the Ingush. LF

The seven-person parliament faction of the Zharangutiun (Heritage) party led by U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian deposited on June 20 a certificate of guarantee for the release from pretrial custody of Karabakh war veterans Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkasian, and of Alexander Arzumanian, who served as foreign minister from late 1996 to February 1998, according to a Zharangutiun press release. Sefilian and Malkhasian were arrested in December and charged with plotting to overthrow the Armenian leadership; Arzumanian was arrested in May after a search of his Yerevan apartment yielded a large sum in cash he is said to have received from a Russian citizen of Armenian origin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18 and 20, 2007). In a separate letter to parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, Hovannisian argued that it is time for Armenia "to eradicate the shameful stigma called 'political prisoner.'" LF

Azerbaijan's Court for Severe Crimes has sentenced a man identified as A. Kerimov to 14 years' imprisonment on charges of seeking to seize power, participating in an illegal armed formation and an armed attack, murder, and other unnamed serious crimes, reported on June 21. Kerimov, who was born in 1968, was identified as a member of the Lezgin separatist organization Sadval, which seeks to establish a separate Lezgin state on territory in northern Azerbaijan and southern Daghestan which constitutes that ethnic group's historic homeland (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 1, 1998, and February 10, 2006), and as having participated in a 1993 attack on a border post in northern Azerbaijan in which one police officer was killed and two injured. He was said to have fled after that attack to Russia, which extradited him to Azerbaijan last year. LF

Some 50 Chechen refugees rallied on June 21 in Baku to demand that the Azerbaijani authorities provide them with better accommodation and welfare and formal refugee status, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. Isa Akhyadov, who is the refugees' spokesman, explained that most of the estimated 6,000 Chechen refugees in Azerbaijan do not have formal refugee status. He said if it is not possible to grant them such status, they want the Azerbaijani authorities and the UN High Commission for Refugees to assist them in resettling in a "democratic country" where their security and welfare will be guaranteed. LF

In a statement released on June 20 and summarized by RIA Novosti, North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov described the ongoing search for a solution to the South Ossetian conflict as deadlocked. He accused Georgia of exerting constant pressure and a transport blockade on the population of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, and of sabotaging the ongoing peace talks, as a result of which, he claimed, earlier agreements signed between the two sides are in jeopardy. He affirmed his commitment to continuing peace talks within the existing framework, which envisages the participation of representatives from Georgia, Russia, North and South Ossetia, and the OSCE, and he stressed that the North Ossetian authorities consider South Ossetia "an inalienable part of the cultural and historic space of a single Ossetia." Mamsurov did not, however, repeat earlier calls for the "unification" of the two Ossetias (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14 and September 19 and 21, 2005). LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev dissolved the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) on June 20 and set new elections for August 18, "Kazakhstan Today" and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev made the decision in response to an appeal from more than 50 members of the 77-seat pro-presidential parliament, which last month voted to remove term limits for Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). Under the country's recently amended constitution, the Mazhilis will consist of 107 deputies, with 98 of them elected on party slates and nine elected by the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan. Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service in Almaty on June 20 that the dissolution of parliament and rapid holding of new elections "has only one goal -- not to give the opposition parties any chance to get ready and launch their election campaigns in full scale." DK

In an interview with "Kazakhstan Today" on June 20, Darigha Nazarbaeva, Nazarbaev's daughter and a parliamentary deputy, expressed approval for the decision to dissolve parliament. Nazarbaeva said "the country's political system has matured sufficiently to move forward without waiting for the next elections in 2009." "The removal of the prohibition on membership in political parties for the head of state means that Nursultan Nazarbaev can officially lead the united, revamped Nur Otan [ruling party] and lead it in elections," she added. Nazarbaeva also confirmed that she had recently divored Rakhat Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). Aliev faces extradition from Austria, where he was formerly ambassador to Kazakhstan. DK

Almaz Atambaev said after talks on June 20 in Bishkek with Aleksandr Fomin, deputy director of Russia's Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, that "Russia is our strategic partner," and "Kyrgyz-Russian ties are strengthening." Fomin also stated that the two countries hope to increase their cooperation in the defense sector. He added that Kyrgyzstan will work with Russia to modernize the country's defense industry, Interfax-AVN reported. "Jointly with Russia, we shall do our best to revive the defense enterprises that used to make a significant contribution to the military-industrial sector and were famous throughout the Soviet Union," he said. DK

William Fallon, the head of U.S. Central Command, met with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat on June 20 to discuss bilateral relations, the official Turkmen news agency TDH reported. "The U.S. government evaluates positively cooperation with Turkmenistan and sees in this partnership great potential for establishing the cooperation of the two countries' militaries to ensure regional security, including fighting terrorism, guarding the borders, and preventing drug smuggling," quoted Fallon as saying. DK

A recent conference in Tashkent concluded that migrant workers from Uzbekistan sent back $1.3 billion in labor remittances in 2006, reported on June 20. The remittances represent 8 percent of Uzbekistan's GDP. Lyudmila Maksakova, a researcher at the Uzbek Center for Socioeconomic Studies, told the conference that 500,000 to 800,000 Uzbek citizens now work abroad, although illegal migration makes an exact assessment impossible. DK

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou said in a statement on June 20 that the UN Human Rights Council's decision on June 18 to eliminate the position of its rapporteur on human-rights observance in Belarus shows the council's ability to be guided "by the principles of a constructive international dialogue and cooperation in the human-rights sphere," Belapan reported. "In our opinion, the decision of the Human Rights Council reflects the natural intention of this new human-rights institution in the UN system to ensure universality, impartiality, and nonselectivity in dealing with issues concerning human rights and to preclude from its work opportunities for politicizing human-rights problems and applying double standards," Papou added. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a written statement on June 19 that Washington is disappointed by the UN Human Rights Council's first year of activities. "The Council focused almost exclusively on a single country -- Israel -- failing to address serious human-rights violations in other countries such as Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Belarus, and Cuba. Unfortunately, today the President of the Council announced a new rules package making these problems even worse, by terminating the mandates of the UN Rapporteurs on the Governments of Cuba and Belarus, two of the world's most active perpetrators of serious human rights violations, and singling out Israel as the only country subject to a permanent agenda item," McCormack noted. JM

Deputy Prime Minister for Agricultural Issues Viktor Slauta told journalists on June 20 that the government has introduced quotas on grain exports for the third quarter of 2007, Ukrainian media reported. The decision restricts exports of wheat, rye, barley, and corn in July-September, setting a limit of 3,000 tons for each crop. The cabinet says these measures were prompted by the abnormally hot weather in May and a drought that has lasted 40-50 days in certain eastern and southern regions. According to Slauta, grain production this year will be in the 27 million to 33 million ton range. Independent analysts generally predict that the grain yield in 2007 will be between 23 million and 29 million tons, while the most pessimistic ones put it as low as 20 million tons. Ukraine harvested 28.7 million tons of grain last year, compared to 34.3 million tons in 2005. JM

Oleksandr Moroz told journalists on June 20 that he would like the Verkhovna Rada on June 27, which is to be the last day of the current parliamentary session, to adopt a bill of constitutional amendments limiting presidential powers and submit it to the Constitutional Court for examination, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Moroz added that the bill could be finally approved in September during the next parliamentary session. To become law, constitutional amendments in Ukraine have to be approved by at least 226 deputies in the first reading and endorsed by at least 300 deputies in the second reading that needs to take place during the subsequent parliamentary session. Moroz said the draft bill on constitutional amendments stipulates "essential restrictions" on presidential prerogatives regarding the appointment of the head of the Security Service as well as the nominations of the foreign minister and the defense minister. The draft bill also proposes to transfer the right to appoint and oversee regional governors in favor of the cabinet of ministers, and to remove the president's right to call for early parliamentary polls. Presidential powers in Ukraine were already limited by the constitutional reform that was adopted during the Orange Revolution in December 2004 and came into force in January 2006. JM

Viktor Yushchenko on June 20 urged the political forces represented in parliament to cancel "unlimited deputy immunity," Ukrainian media reported. "It is the most important way to make the Verkhovna Rada healthy," Yushchenko said in a televised address. "Parliament is for making laws, not for hiding from them," he argued. "It is definitely necessary to put an end to abuses of deputy immunity. Society is fed up with the overt demonstration of impunity.... The cancellation of the unlimited deputy immunity is the first step toward eradicating corruption in parliament." Yushchenko expressed hope that his initiative will be supported by all "responsible political forces" and candidates for the future legislature. Yushchenko on June 5 decreed early parliamentary elections for September 30, but the ruling coalition's lawmakers continue to work in the Verkhovna Rada, claiming that his decree is unconstitutional. JM

Russia on June 20 rejected as "unacceptable" a new draft UN resolution that would delay a UN decision on the future for Kosova for four months, international media reported the same day. The new draft called for a final round of bilateral talks between Belgrade and Prishtina during those months, but stated that, if they failed to reach an agreement, the UN would then accept a plan paving the way for Kosova to gain independence "unless the Security Council expressly decides otherwise after conducting an evaluation." Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said the new formula would not "provide sufficient incentive for the two parties to negotiate seriously." The author of the UN's plan for the contested province, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, held 15 months of fruitless talks before concluding that the UN should allow Kosova to become a fully fledged state after a period under international supervision. Russia has been urging an indefinite deferral of a UN decision, calling instead for new bilateral talks between Belgrade and Prishtina and insisting that no solution can be imposed on Serbia. This is the third resolution drafted by the UN Security Council's three Western veto-carrying members -- the United States, Britain, and France -- each with concessions to reflect Russia's concerns. As in the second draft submitted on May 31, this proposal included watered-down references to the Ahtisaari plan, stronger calls for Kosova to meet international standards, and a commitment to appoint a UN envoy to oversee refugee issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14 and June 1, 2007). Russia has drafted one resolution, but has refrained from deeper negotiations. Churkin said on June 20 that he expects that to remain the case until the "difference of principle" is overcome, AP reported the same day. The draft was also rejected by both Belgrade and Prishtina. Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku told local and international media that further talks are unnecessary, while Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the news agency Tanjug that "any attempt to hide the project of independence for the province [Kosova] behind a several-month delay is unacceptable." AG

Britain's deputy ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, indicated on June 20 that Europe and the United States might be prepared to recognize Kosova's independence even without Russian support, international media reported the same day. Pierce urged Russia to engage more deeply in discussions, but added: "That's not to say other routes are not available if that partnership doesn't work." "I think it's fair to say that one way or another, Kosovo independence is going to be inevitable," Pierce said, according to Reuters. "It is much better that that is reached through a managed process, with proper and adequate guarantees for the Kosovo Serb and other minorities in Kosovo." The United States has consistently said that independence for Kosova is "inevitable" and a leading U.S. State Department figure has on one occasion said Washington would back a unilateral call for independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2007). However, Washington and Prishtina have since both avoided talk of a unilateral declaration, stressing instead their desire for an international consensus. The draft UN resolution circulated on June 20 specifically sought to forestall any early move by Prishtina, demanding "that the parties refrain from making any unilateral declarations regarding final status" during the 120-day period of bilateral talks. With discussions at the UN seemingly at an impasse, diplomats at the UN are reportedly increasingly suggesting that the prospects of an agreement with Russia hinge on talks that U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold on July 2. AG

Blasko Temunovic, leader of the second-largest ethnic-Croat party in Serbia, has undergone emergency surgery after being attacked on June 18, local media reported on June 20. Temunovic was beaten with a baseball bat and a metal rod by two unknown men in Subotica, a town in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, during an attack reportedly accompanied by ethnic abuse. Temunovic heads the Hrvatsko-Bunjevacko-Sokacka party, a small nonparliamentary party representing Croats in Vojvodina, an ethnically mixed part of Serbia. There are few details about the attack and the police have not commented on its possible motive. Ethnic sensitivities between Croats and Serbs have been exacerbated in recent days by a rock concert held in Croatia on June 17, at which, according to local and international media, some of the 50,000-60,000 people in the crowd carried symbols of the Ustasha movement, Croatian fascists who colluded with the Nazis and administered most of modern-day Croatia during World War II. The Serbian Orthodox Church on June 20 expressed its "profound concern" at the concert, at which the star billing was the Croat Marko "Thompson" Perkovic. The Croatian government on June 20 issued a statement urging "all those who exert influence on youth to cultivate and advocate values on which today's Europe is founded," but did not refer directly to the concert. Perkovic refrained from pro-Ustasha statements or salutes, AFP reported on June 20, but he has in the past used Ustasha slogans and given Nazi-style salutes. In one song, issued in 2004, Perkovic appeared to praise concentration camps in which, according to the most reliable estimates, the Ustasha killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma, Jews, and left-wing Croats. That prompted Croatia's political and religious leaders to issue possibly their clearest condemnations yet of hate speech. AG

In an extensive interview published by the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" on June 19, Miroslav Lajcak, the incoming high representative of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said he will not impose reforms if the country's politicians cannot agree on them. "You cannot move toward the EU with the Bonn powers," Lajcak said in reference to the sweeping powers at his disposal. The high representative can dismiss elected officials and ban them from holding office, and impose or revoke legislation, but it has been recent policy of the international community to use these powers only in cases of direct violations of the 1995 Dayton peace accords. "The reforms are the key to the future of this country, and the politicians must understand that," Lajcak said. "But the reforms cannot be implemented through repressive measures." Lajcak will start as high representative at the end of the month, amid great concern over Bosnia's stalled reforms and its inability to sign a pre-accession deal with the European Union, which would require agreement on police reform, public-broadcasting reform, and cooperation with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Lajcak said it is one of his "key ambitions" to reduce the current tensions, which have been fueled by recent demands that Bosnia's Republika Srpska be abolished (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2007). Asked about constitutional reform, which many Bosnian Serbs see as code for abolishing their entity, Lajcak said, "this is your country, your constitution, and nothing can be imposed there." He refused, however, to explicitly renounce the Bonn powers. "This would be as if Ronaldinho said prior to the World Cup that he would not be using his right leg," he said. Lajcak's predecessor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, has been widely criticized for his hands-off approach. In the time since Schwarz-Schilling's predecessor Paddy Ashdown left office, not a single reform law required for closer ties with the EU has been passed, and it appears likely that Lajcak will take a more resolute stance in his dealings with Bosnia's politicians. TV

In the same interview published by "Nezavisne novine" on June 19, Lajcak announced that he will restructure the Office of the High Representative (OHR) after taking over from Schwarz-Schilling at the end of this month. "I made some decisions with the aim to simplify the OHR structure, to make it clearer and more efficient, and to downsize it," Lajcak said. He also announced that he will terminate the tradition of having two deputies, one from a European Union member state and one from the United States. "Part of those changes is also having only one deputy, which is Raffi Gregorian, of course," Lajcak said, referring to the current principal deputy high representative, an American. Lajcak's mandate as high representative, and hence the mandate of the OHR, is expected to end in one year, when a European Union special representative (EUSR) will take over with reduced powers. Since Ashdown's term in office, the head of the OHR has simultaneously served as the EUSR. TV

During a meeting in Brussels on June 20, the European Union's top foreign-affairs official, Javier Solana, told the president of Bosnia's Republika Srpska, Milan Jelic, that police reform is a key precondition for closer ties with the EU, AP reported the same day. Sarajevo and Brussels have agreed on the text of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) but it cannot be initialed as long as no agreement on police reform is reached, a process that has been stalled for much of the last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1 and 14 and December 11, 2006). (Two other conditions, reform of public broadcasting and cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal, are generally thought to be less problematic.) Bosnia's police agencies are currently divided along entity and cantonal lines, with the Republika Srpska in complete control of its own force. The reform initially foresaw the creation of functional rather than political police divisions that would cut across entity boundaries under the oversight of Bosnia's central government. But international mediators abandoned the idea of cross-entity divisions when it became clear to them that the Bosnian Serbs would not agree to it. The current plan is for Republika Srpska as a whole to remain one of the several police regions to be established under the reform, allowing it de facto to keep its own force, but some Bosnian parties oppose the designation of that force as an explicit Republika Srpska police. Jelic told Solana that his government is "committed" to the process of European integration and that police reform is being held up by "some politicians in Sarajevo who wish to eliminate the police force of Republika Srpska." TV

Serbia has handed over former Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic to Bosnia's state court, Reuters reported on June 20. Prosecutors accuse Klickovic of having "ordered, planned, prepared, aided, and abetted in murder, deportation, forcible transfer, and imprisonment of civilians" in the northern municipality of Bosanska Krupa between 1990 and 1992. Serbian police arrested Klickovic in June 2006 on an Interpol warrant relating to a different indictment by a local court in Sokolac, Bosnia, for abuse of office. Klickovic, an associate of Bosnian Serb wartime President Radovan Karadzic, was prime minister of Republika Srpska from May 1996 to January 1998, when he lost a power struggle against current Prime Minister Milorad Dodik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 20, 1998). The Bosnian Serb authorities subsequently charged Klickovic with embezzling some $4 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14, 1998). He was arrested shortly thereafter, but went into hiding after being freed on bail. TV

Exhumations have begun on a newly discovered mass grave, apparently containing remains of victims of the 1995 executions at Srebrenica, local and international media reported on June 19. "So far, we found remains which, we believe, account for up to 15 people," Murat Hurtic of Bosnia's Missing Persons Commission told AFP. He said the bodies appear to have been disinterred from another site and moved to the current location near Zeleni Jadar, some 15 kilometers from Srebrenica, presumably in an attempt to conceal evidence. Following the July 1995 mass executions in and around Srebrenica, many bodies were dumped in large mass graves only to be dug up later that year and dispersed in smaller, secondary mass graves. Some 2,500 victims have been identified so far through DNA analysis. Up to 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) from Srebrenica are thought to have been killed after the UN-protected area fell to Bosnian Serb forces. TV

Albania's leading political parties decided on June 20 to defer the election of the country's president, opting instead for talks aimed at finding a consensus candidate, Albanian media reported the same day. Parliament was due to elect a successor to Alfred Moisiu on June 20 but, with five opposition parties threatening to boycott the first round, the vote looked set to be highly contentious (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2007). Reports from the first day of discussions suggest no breakthrough. EU foreign-policy chief Solana urged the government and opposition to find a compromise figure when he met with Albanian Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha on June 19. Solana's call reflects concern at the possible impact of political instability on Albania's efforts to prepare its institutions and military for membership of the EU and NATO. Failure to agree on a president after five rounds of voting would trigger early parliamentary elections. Local elections held this February provided further evidence of flaws in Albania's electoral politics and procedures, with final results announced only after 16 weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). AG

There is no End Note today.

British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said on June 19 that London should be thinking of its presence in Afghanistan "in terms of decades," predicting a long-term development role for Britain rather than a military one, AFP reported that day. Cowper-Coles told BBC radio it will probably take "decades" to restore stability in a country that "has suffered from 30 years of war" and ranks near the bottom on the world development index. "It's a marathon rather than a sprint," he said, remarking that Britain's troops, as part of the NATO-led coalition, are fighting a winnable war. According to Cowper-Coles, Afghans want international forces to remain in Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from regaining power and to establish schools and hospitals. The British government has deployed civilians to provide aid and promote development, but it is now sending diplomats with language skills and country knowledge, he added. JC

Hamid Karzai on June 19 challenged Afghan citizens to stand on their own feet to save their country rather than relying on foreigners to provide security and fuel progress, Reuters reported. Speaking at a gathering in Kabul, Karzai told Afghans to stop complaining about interference from other countries and blaming foreign occupation and involvement for Afghanistan's failures. "The time has come for us to strengthen ourselves...with a strong army and police and that no one finds the opportunity for interference," Karzai said. He pointed to education and the rule of law as the primary vehicles for achieving this goal, while noting the "great threat" from Afghanistan's opium industry, which supplies over 90 percent of the world's heroin. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the war-torn country has relied largely on Western troops for its security and on foreign aid to drive its economy. JC

Three NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on June 20 when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, AP reported that day. In a press conference from Kandahar, Canadian Brigadier General Tim Grant said the victims were Canadian, according to AFP. The soldiers were transporting supplies to checkpoints "outside of [Canada's] forward operating bases" in an open-top, unarmored vehicle when it hit a roadside bomb, Grant said. The location of the attack was not specified. Meanwhile, provincial police chief Esmatullah Alizai said police retook control of Myanishen district in southern Kandahar late on June 19, a day after militants overran it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2007). In another incident in southern Afghanistan, rebels ambushed a United Nations convoy on the main Kabul-Kandahar highway, killing two Afghan guards and wounding another, said Jailani Khan, highway police chief for Zabul province. JC

Dozens of people gathered on June 20 to mourn the 21 police instructors killed in an explosion three days earlier in Kabul, AP reported. Families and friends of the victims, President Karzai among them, attended a service at a mosque in Kabul, the walls and windows of which were decorated with portraits of the dead police officers. The June 17 suicide attack destroyed a bus carrying the police trainers, killing as many as 35 people and wounding 52 others in the deadliest insurgent attack since the Taliban's removal in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). The United Nations recently reported that Afghan police are poorly trained, underpaid, and lack adequate equipment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007), but international donors are refocusing efforts to build a professional force. JC

Iran's envoy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told ISNA on June 20 that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani will discuss Iran's nuclear dossier in Vienna on June 22 and in Lisbon on June 23 with Javier Solana, the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy. He said the two will meet at the residence of IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei in Vienna and that their discussions will be related to the more formal meeting in Lisbon. The two are to discuss ideas proposed in Madrid on May 31, intended to create conditions for a formal resumption of negotiations between Iran and the West on Tehran's nuclear dossier, ISNA reported. VS

Foreign ministers of the five Caspian Sea littoral states -- Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan -- met in Tehran on June 20 to discuss a legal regime for the Caspian Sea, Radio Farda reported. The 1940 treaty between the Soviet Union and Iran governing the division of the seas resources fell into obeyance when the USSR ceased to exist in 1991. Radio Farda observed that in the absence of a new agreement, Iran's position has been that states should divide the sea equally, although three other littoral states, including Russia, have opposed that proposal. The session in Tehran included discussion of a draft statement for a conference of Caspian heads of state, a time frame for that conference, and military issues, including a ban on foreign ships navigating in the Caspian Sea, Radio Farda reported. It cited Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki as saying that a conference of heads of states will probably take place in Tehran in the coming months. Mottaki said at the opening of the session that the former Soviet-Iranian treaty could provide a basis for a future legal regime and should be augmented with new provisions on security, shipping, and fishing rights, Radio Farda reported. VS

A Kuwaiti diplomat was beaten in Tehran on June 19 by unknown attackers and had to return home on June 20 for medical treatment, Radio Farda and media reported. Kuwait's Foreign Ministry summoned Iranian Ambassador Ali Jannati to demand an explanation for the assault on Muhammad al-Zobi, the second secretary at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Tehran, it added. Al-Zobi was reportedly beaten by six people as he left the embassy, AP reported on June 20. Embassy personnel provided by Iran apparently did not intervene, though later a police unit was sent to the embassy building, Radio Farda cited the Kuwaiti daily "Al-Qabs" as stating. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said Iran is investigating the incident, AP reported. An unnamed Kuwaiti official told AP in Kuwait City on June 20 that the emirate wants Iran to identify the assailants: "Did they have any official connections? Were they rebels, mobs?" VS

Some 5,000 workers of the Haft Tapeh sugar-cane factory in Khuzestan, southwestern Iran, were continuing an intermittent strike of past weeks on June 15, Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 8, and 14, 2007). The workers, who complain of wage arrears, suspended an earlier strike after management promised on June 3 to pay two or three months of back wages, Radio Farda reported. A local activist and Haft Tapeh employee told Radio Farda on June 15 that Haft Tapeh workers were continuing to block or obstruct roads to the factory, and had thus far rejected police requests to open the roads. He said workers had gone on strike 11 times since "the start of last year," presumably the Persian year that began on March 21, 2006. The aim of so many strikes, he said, was to convey workers' dissatisfaction to officials, though he added that meetings held with management have not produced satisfactory results. The activist said workers at the factory live "below the poverty line" and that relatives have to help some of them with money. He cited demands as including payment of "three months" of unpaid wages, "preventing the activities of the sugar mafia" -- referring to those importing sugar to Iran -- and the right to form a trade union, Radio Farda reported. VS

A spokesman for an employers' association told ILNA on June 20 that a recent presidential order to reduce interest rates will negatively affect productivity and job creation in Iran. Bahaeddin Adab, a former legislator and spokesman for the Iran Higher Society of Employers [Kanun-i aali-yi karfarmayan-i Iran], said the presidential order cutting rates to 12 percent, below an inflation rate observers have put at no less than 13 percent, will prompt people to withdraw cash from banks, and will reduce the number of bank loans for job-generating projects. Iran's Money and Credit Council, which is affiliated to the Central Bank, recently accepted President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's order setting 12 percent as the basic interest rate in state-sector banks. It proposed a 13-percent rate for private banks. The government believes cutting rates will cut production costs, but Adab said rates should come down with inflation, ILNA reported. VS

Nuri al-Maliki's office issued a statement on June 20, strongly condemning the June 19 bombing of the Al-Khalani Mosque in Baghdad, which killed 78 people and wounded more than 220 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2007), international media reported the same day. "The bombing is yet another proof that takfiris [unbelievers] and Saddamists are insisting on fanning the flames of sectarian sedition and trivializing all values and sanctities," the statement said. Meanwhile, the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association released a statement on its website the same day denouncing the attack and blaming the U.S.-led occupation and the Iraqi government. "While condemning this heinous act, the Muslim Scholars Association holds the occupation and the current government fully responsible for it. It also calls upon all Iraqis to thwart their enemies' schemes by demonstrating greater unity, solidarity, and brotherhood," the statement said. SS

Unidentified gunmen on June 20 blew up two Sunni mosques north of Al-Hillah, international media reported the same day. Local police sources said that the Usama Ibn Zayd and Abdullah al-Juburi mosques in Al-Iskandariyah were destroyed, apparently by explosive charges. However, no casualties were reported. The attacks came a day after a massive truck bomb partly destroyed the Shi'ite Al-Khalani Mosque in central Baghdad. Several Sunni and Shi'ite mosques have been attacked in a series of reprisal acts since gunmen destroyed the minarets of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra on June 13 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). Meanwhile, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on June 20 that police have discovered 33 bodies in various areas of Baghdad in the last 24 hours. An Interior Ministry source, on condition of anonymity, said 338 bodies have been found in Baghdad since the beginning of June. SS

"Al-Hayat" reported on June 20 that according to informed security sources, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of several tribal leaders and former Ba'athist officers in the Iraqi military who were based in the Dhi Qar Governorate for allegedly conspiring with the intelligence service of an Arab country. One of the sources said that the men were arrested "because of their proven relationship with the intelligence service of an Arab country and for securing moral, material, and logistical support for armed groups that are active in southern Iraq." None of the sources named the Arab country in question, but several indicated that al-Maliki has sent a "special force" to detain the men and return them to Baghdad for questioning. The alleged leader of the group was "a warrant officer in the former [Iraqi] army" who "was in contact with former Ba'athist leaders in the south and armed groups that are active there." SS

Jalal Talabani left for Beijing on June 20 on a weeklong state visit to China, the first by an Iraqi president since 1958, Xinhua reported the same day. "It's my honor to be the first Iraqi president to visit China since the establishment of the diplomatic ties between Iraq and China 49 years ago," Talabani said. "I am looking forward to the visit and hope it will open a new phase of the bilateral relations." Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day that Talibani hopes his visit will persuade China to write off Iraq's debt, which is estimated at approximately $8 billion. Talabani is being accompanied by several Iraqi officials including Finance Minister Baqir Jabr Sulagh, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani, Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahrastani, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Rafi al-Isawi. SS

A U.S. military patrol discovered two dozen emaciated boys in appalling conditions at the state-run Al-Hanan Orphanage for children with special needs in Baghdad, international media reported on June 20. The U.S. military said the discovery was made by the 82nd Airborne Division on June 10 during a daytime patrol in central Baghdad. The boys, aged 3 to 15, were found naked and covered in their own excrement, with some tied to their beds and too weak to stand. A member of the patrol, Lieutenant Stephen Duperre, said they also discovered a kitchen full of food and a storeroom stocked with piles of brand-new clothing. Two security guards were taken into custody on orders by Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, who also vowed to conduct a full investigation. The U.S. military said that the boys have been placed in foster care. SS

An Iraqi security source said on June 19 that Iraqi and U.S. forces have arrested Muhammad Khalid al-Haron, Al-Qaeda in Iraq's leader in Al-Muqdadiya in the Diyala Governorate, the independent "Voices of Iraq" reported on June 20. "Al-Haron was responsible for many attacks, in the district in addition to issuing fatwas asserting that Muslims in Diyala are infidels," the source said. He also indicated that the raid netted a significant amount of weapons. On June 19, Iraq and U.S. forces launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a major offensive against Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the Diyala Governorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20, 2007). The same security source said that several other towns in the governorate, including the provincial capital Ba'qubah, were placed under curfew until further notice. SS