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Newsline - October 4, 2007

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is also chairman of the state-run gas monopoly Gazprom, said in Moscow on October 3 that Gazprom has reached an agreement under which Ukraine will pay its $1.3 billion in debts to Gazprom, thereby heading off the possibility of a halt in Russian gas supplies to Ukraine on November 1, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007). He added that "European consumers won't suffer. European customers are in an absolutely comfortable situation." Britain's "Financial Times" reported on October 4 that the meaning of Medvedev's statement is unclear. The paper added that his announcement "might be only an initial step towards resolving a standoff that has rekindled fears over possible shortages in gas supplies to Europe." The Russian daily "Kommersant" wrote on October 4 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced the previous day in Kyiv that he wants not a government of the Orange Revolution parties, as was widely expected, but rather for "the [pro-Moscow] Party of the Regions, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense, and the other winners of the parliamentary elections to begin preliminary consultations on forming a majority in the parliament and forming a [broad coalition] government for the country." "Kommersant" noted that "the Ukrainian president made his shocking statement 20 minutes after a happy ending was declared in Russia to the dispute with Ukraine over natural gas." Yushchenko further added to the confusion when he said in Berlin on October 3, a few hours after his call in Kyiv for a coalition government, that "neither the Ukrainian state nor Naftohaz has debts to Gazprom." In Kyiv on October 3, Ukrainian Finance Minister Mykola Azarov disagreed with Gazprom's figure of $1.3 billion in debts, saying that "some issues in [determining] accounts may have arisen," but that the full figure is "out of the question.... [Gazprom] must have used, let us say, inaccurate data." Prior to making his announcement on the alleged deal between Gazprom and Ukraine, Medvedev said on October 3 that "Gazprom is not a charitable organization. It is a large company which implements large-scale investment and social projects.... Gazprom cannot put its investment plans at risk over foreign partners' solvency problems." PM

Finnish Undersecretary of State Markus Lyyra was quoted by Reuters as saying in Helsinki on October 3 that Finland is prepared to host talks with Russia and Estonia to try to prevent airspace violations following Russian overflights of the other two states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21 and 25, and October 2, 2007). He added that "we told [Russia on October 1] that we are ready to hold a specialist-level meeting in Helsinki," but that Russia has not replied. An Estonian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that "we have agreed in principle to hold talks at the level of specialists. It is seen as a confidence-building measure." Russia previously offered to hold talks with Finland. Since at least the spring, its relations with Estonia have been poor. Tallinn has implied that Moscow was behind a massive cyberattack on Estonia in May, an assertion that Russia denies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7 and August 15, 2007). PM

On October 3 in Brussels, officials of the European Parliament took down an exhibition of some 300 pictures showing atrocities against Chechens, which in turn drew accusations of censorship from EU lawmakers who organized the display, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007). A parliament spokesman said the pictures were taken down hours after the exhibition opened on October 2 because some photos were considered too brutal. Organizers say the decision "brings shame and moral injustice" to the assembly and are demanding that the exhibition be reopened. Former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, now a member of the European Parliament, is among the sponsors. PM

Several representatives of leading Russian civil-society groups held meetings with EU officials and media in Brussels on October 2-3, RFE/RL reported. Their visit, sponsored by the European Commission, was timed to coincide with a "human-rights dialogue" between EU and Russian officials, which took place on October 3. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also held a conference with their Russian colleagues commemorating the first anniversary of the killing of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Sergei Orlov, representing the Russian rights organization Memorial, and Tanya Lokshina of the Demos Center, both cast doubt on the official investigation of the killing, which focuses on a mid-level security official and a former Chechen functionary. Lokshina said the Russian government is stamping out political dissent using legislation ostensibly targeting "terrorists" and "extremists." Orlov warned that while the situation in Chechnya has stabilized -- by what he described as "totalitarian" methods -- Ingushetia is on the "brink of war" as a result of a heavy-handed crackdown by authorities. Sasha Kulayeva, speaking for the International Federation For Human Rights, criticized the EU for not daring to openly take Russia to task for the rights violations. She welcomed the consultations the EU is holding with civil-rights groups, but said these are not followed through at meetings with Russian officials. PM

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko was quoted by Interfax as saying in Moscow on October 3 that "we expect that the dialogue [with the EU] on the subject of visa-free travel will assume an even more concrete shape during the French presidency" in the second half of 2008. He added that "we regard...[establishing] visa-free travel between Russia and the [EU] as a priority and strategic task." Grushko stressed that France has long been a strong partner for Russia. He said that "France is a traditional supporter of the rapprochement between Russia and the [EU], not just a key partner in foreign policy, trade, and economic relations. We remember [that]...when France previously held the EU Presidency, in the second half of marked the beginning of dialogue and cooperation on European security and defense-policy issues." In 2000, France was led by President Jacques Chirac, who later drew close to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the basis of active opposition to the United States. The current government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has been much more critical of Moscow while drawing closer on some issues to Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, and September 18 and 19, 2007). PM

On October 4, Russia commemorated the launching of the small artificial satellite Sputnik-1, which weighed only 80 kilograms but marked the beginning of the space age, Russian and international media reported. The state-run RIA Novosti news agency wrote that Sputnik "changed the world forever." Boris Chertok, one of the craft's designers, was recently quoted by Reuters as saying in Moscow that "we considered it [head Soviet rocket engineer Sergei] Korolyov's little toy when we were preparing for the launch and had no idea that the launch of this small ball, so simple from the outside and inside, would make such an impact on mankind." He added that "as sad as it sounds, the Cold War stimulated the development of space technology. If our life had been as peaceful and stable as it is today, without any fear of being attacked, perhaps we would not have put as much money into space and rocket technology as we did in the 1960s and 1970s." On October 3, the heads of the Russian and U.S. space agencies signed an agreement in Moscow to cooperate on unmanned missions to search for potential water deposits beneath the surface of the moon and Mars. Russian scientific instruments will be put on board NASA probes. The launches are planned for 2008 and 2009. PM

Sergei Mironov, chairman of the Federation Council and head of the A Just Russia party, said on October 3 that his party will emerge as the main opposition to Unified Russia, despite President Putin's October 1 decision to head Unified Russia's list of candidates for the December 2 Duma elections, RFE/RL reported. Mironov said Putin's decision was an effort to "save" Unified Russia, which he argued was incapable of enunciating a coherent platform without the president. Mironov added, without elaboration, that he thinks Putin's decision is a step toward "the formation of a real two-party system in our country," and claimed it will impact A Just Russia "positively." "I think that in the end we will even get more votes than we would otherwise," he said. Asked to comment on Mironov's statement, political analyst Andrei Ryabov told RFE/RL, "It is very hard to agree with this assertion." Levada Center analyst Aleksei Levinson told RFE/RL on October 3 that Putin's decision will add 10-15 percent to Unified Russia's total vote and will likely give the party a constitutional majority in the Duma. He said that Putin's authority in Russia is so great now that the figures around him have only "aesthetic, not political" significance. RC

In a presentation to a Moscow business conference on October 3, presidential adviser Arkady Dvorkovich criticized the growing trend of state megacorporations, saying that they threaten to reverse economic-growth trends, "Gazeta" reported on October 4. Dvorkovich called the sector monopolies a "dead end for the development of the Russian economy." He said that the corporations are completely opaque, even to the State Audit Chamber, and added that they have the potential to form a sufficiently powerful lobby to gain tax and other concessions. He added that the corporations represent "an all-consuming fashion for the conquering of the market by the state." Former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and former Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref have urged caution on the state corporations in the past, and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has opposed granting concessions to them or financing them out of the Stabilization Fund. RC

Moscow's Basmanny Raion Court on October 3 postponed for 72 hours consideration of the detention of Federal Antinarcotics Committee Lieutenant General Aleksandr Bulbov, ITAR-TASS reported. Bulbov, who has been described as "the right-hand man" of Federal Antinarcotics Committee Chairman Viktor Cherkesov, was arrested on October 2 with three other committee officers on suspicion of illegally monitoring telephone conversations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007). The court sanctioned for three months the arrest of retired committee agent Yury Geval. The press has interpreted the arrests as a sign of a conflict between the Antinarcotics Committee and the Federal Security Service (FSB) because Bulbov was a key investigator in the so-called Three Whales case, which led to the dismissals of many highly place figures in the FSB and the Prosecutor-General's Office. The four detainees are accused of receiving up to $50,000 per month per phone number to monitor phones for a number of Moscow businesses, "Kommersant" reported on October 4. The daily reported that Bulbov was detained while returning early from a business trip to the United Arab Emirates after having been informed by his wife that FSB investigators were searching his two Moscow apartments, a house he owns in Moscow, and another that he owns in Moscow Oblast. "Novaya gazeta" reported on October 4 that Bulbov is also suspected of illegal real-estate development in a protected wildlife refuge in Kaliningrad Oblast. The paper quoted State Environmental Monitoring Agency Deputy Director Oleg Mitvol as saying that "we have established that about one-quarter of the properties on the territory of the national park are controlled by General Bulbov -- made out to his wife and close relatives." RC

Long-time human rights activist and Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva has been awarded the French Legion of Honor, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on October 3. She received the honor in a ceremony at the French Embassy in Moscow. Fellow activist Sergei Kovalyov said it is an ambiguous honor: "On one hand, it is pleasant, but on the other, perhaps, it raises some doubts. Because that legion is painfully large.... I myself recently, with some embarrassment, accepted this award. Because just a short time before me, they handed it to our president [Vladimir Putin], [Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei] Stepashin, and who knows who else -- people with whom I would not really be associated with. I expect that Lyudmila Mikhailovna has this same feeling." RC

Daghestan's Supreme Court on September 18 ordered the closure of the Makhachkala subsidiary of the Saifullah Kadi Islamic University on the grounds that it is not legally registered as a religious organization and does not have a license to engage in educational activities, and reported on October 3 and 4, respectively. There are currently five authorized Islamic universities in the Russian Federation, in Moscow, Kazan, Ufa, Makhachkala, and Nalchik. LF

Acting on a formal appeal by relatives of the young men killed during the multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nalchik on October 13, 2005, the Nalchik City Court has demanded a copy of a ruling by a department of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office dated May 16, 2006, that the investigation into the attacks was complete and the bodies of 95 "terrorists" who died in the fighting should be disposed of in accordance with the law, reported on October 3. The ruling should have been formally endorsed by Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) President Arsen Kanokov, but Kanokov's representative for parliamentary and legal affairs told the court that the KBR leadership never received it. Earlier this year, the Russian authorities informed the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, to which relatives had appealed for the release of the bodies for burial, that the bodies were cremated in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). The relatives point out that three of the 95 men, some of whom were innocent passersby killed in cross fire, were never identified. LF

Meeting with journalists in Yerevan on October 3, Serzh Sarkisian rejected as unfounded criticisms of the present Armenian leadership expressed on September 21 by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In his first lengthy public statement since being forced by Sarkisian and current President Robert Kocharian to resign in February 1998, Ter-Petrossian said Kocharian heads a "criminal regime" that has turned Armenia into a "third-world country," rigs elections, tramples on the law, extorts bribes from businessmen, and restricts press freedom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 24, 2007). Sarkisian reasoned that the population at large does not necessarily share that view, and he pointed out that similar allegations were leveled 10 years ago against the Ter-Petrossian leadership. Sarkisian is widely regarded as the favorite to win the presidential elections due in early 2008, in which Kocharian is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term. Kocharian on September 25 warned Ter-Petrossian that if he attempts a political comeback by participating in that ballot he will be treated "as an ordinary opposition figure, with all that entails" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26, 2007). Asked whether Kocharian will become prime minister when his presidential term ends, Sarkisian said he does not believe Kocharian has any desire to do so. LF

Gagik Hakobian, owner of the Royal Armenia coffee-packaging company, was arrested on October 3 upon his return to Yerevan after undergoing medical treatment abroad, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hakobian and Aram Ghazarian, a Royal Armenia senior executive, were acquitted in July of fraud and tax-evasion charges brought against them after they publicly accused senior customs officials in 2005 of soliciting a bribe in return for undervaluing the raw coffee they imported. The judge who handed down that acquittal, Pargev Ohanian, is currently facing disciplinary proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 14, 2005, and July 17 and September 12 and 19, 2007). LF

Addressing the UN General Assembly on October 3 for the 10th consecutive year, Vartan Oskanian again deplored the inclusion in the assembly's agenda of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to the text of his address as circulated by the Armenian Foreign Ministry on October 4. The initiative for debating the Karabakh conflict at the General Assembly, together with those in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester, originated with the GUAM group (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova); EU envoy to the South Caucasus Peter Semneby and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group that is mediating a settlement of the Karabakh conflict have both criticized it as unhelpful and counterproductive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18 and December 7, 2006, and February 20 and March 5, 2007). Oskanian argued that "any resolution that places all conflicts in one pot is necessarily flawed. Each of these conflicts is different." He pointed out that, unlike the other three, the Karabakh conflict is not "frozen," but "we are inching toward resolution" on the basis of "a well-developed negotiating document...based not on wishful thinking, but on the core issue and the consequential issues," which "together, add up to a balanced solution." Oskanian stressed that Armenia concurs with the international community's argument that eventual independence for Kosova cannot and should not serve as a precedent to be applied to other conflicts. But he went on to argue that, by the same token, Armenia will not accept "the reverse logic -- that if Kosovo is given independence, no other people can achieve self-determination." LF

In a statement released on October 3, the Georgian Justice Ministry accused Eka Beselia, who represents former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, of making unspecified false statements concerning the circumstances of her client's arrest and pretrial detention, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili was arrested late on September 27, two days after leveling corruption allegations against President Mikheil Saakashvili, and charged with extorting bribes, money laundering, and abuse of his official position while serving as a government minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 26 and October 2, 3007). Also on October 3, parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze said Okruashvili should produce evidence to substantiate his accusations against Saakashvili or face "serious punishment" for his crimes, Caucasus Press reported. LF

In a statement posted on October 3 on his website (, Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, warned the European Division of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone that any future flights over Abkhaz airspace should be coordinated in advance with the Abkhaz authorities. He said intrusions by unidentified aircraft into Abkhaz airspace have increased of late, and that the republic's Defense Ministry has instructions to "terminate" such intrusions. Bagapsh also criticized as a violation of the Convention on International Civil Aviation overflights of Abkhaz territory by airlines that coordinate such flights only with the Georgian authorities. He warned that the Abkhaz authorities can no longer guarantee the safety of aircraft that enter Abkhaz airspace without prior notification. LF

In a special ceremony in Atyrau, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov and visiting Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov presided on October 3 over the inauguration of a new cross-border bridge spanning the Kigach River, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The strategic bridge provides a new link in the Atyrau-Astrakhan highway and will be able to facilitate the daily crossing of more than 7,500 vehicles across the Kazakh-Russian border, thereby significantly expanding trade and commerce. Kazakh officials also hope to gain a greater role as a transit state, with goods from China and other Central Asian countries expected to utilize the new land route to the Russian market. RG

Speaking at a news conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu on October 3 accused Chinese mining companies operating in the country of polluting and otherwise damaging the environment, according to AKIpress. Bakir-uulu specifically charged the Chinese firms with engaging in irresponsible practices and ignoring environmental concerns in the course of gold-mining operations in the remote Chatkal district of the southwestern Jalal-Abad region. He recently took a fact-finding trip to the remote area to officially investigate reports by local residents of environmental damage. Bakir-uulu said that although the gold mines are fully licensed to operate in the area, there is a lack of adequate safeguards and no inspections of conditions there. The mining operations have reportedly greatly increased the level of contamination and pollution of local rivers and waterways, poisoned local drinking-water supplies, and have reduced the number of trees and flora. RG

The Kyrgyz parliament adopted a new bill on October 2 calling on President Kurmanbek Bakiev to add a new constitutional amendment to his set of proposed changes set to be considered in a national referendum on October 19, AKIpress reported. The new amendment seeks to enact a new constitutional measure banning any public official found guilty of "mishandling, squandering, or embezzling funds" from government service for 25 years. The proposed constitutional ban would be separate from any criminal penalties imposed in relation to such a case. Explaining the rationale for the proposal, opposition deputy Omurbek Tekebaev noted that it would target "people who did not properly execute projects for handling foreign credit," adding that mere criminal charges are not enough for such cases. He further charged that "there are about a hundred such people," with about "half of them" holding senior government positions. RG

Following his return from a visit to the United States, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov met on October 3 with visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, according to ITAR-TASS. Berdymukhammedov hailed Russia's role as his country's leading export partner and noted that the overall level of bilateral trade increased by more than 35 percent for the first seven months of the year compared with the same period in 2006. Naryshkin, who arrived in Ashgabat to co-chair the Russian-Turkmen intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation, stressed that the "implementation of agreements on developing the [natural] gas-transportation system" is Russia's priority, and he praised the agreement concluded in May between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan calling for the construction of a natural-gas pipeline running overland parallel to the Caspian Sea. In 2007, Turkmenistan is expected to supply Russia with roughly 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas. RG

The Austria Telekom group announced on October 3 that it has agreed to acquire a 70 percent stake in Belarus's Mobile Digital Communication (MLS), also known as Velcom, for 730 million euros ($1 billion), international news agencies reported. Austria Telekom will buy the stake through a 70 percent holding in the MLS's full owner, Cyprus-based SB Telecom, which reportedly acquired the MLS from the Belarusian government in August. Neither the MLS nor the Belarusian government have issued any statement on the deal with the Cypriot company. Austria Telekom also has an option to buy the outstanding 30 percent stake at a price of 320 million euros in the fourth quarter of 2010. JM

The Central Election Commission reported on its website ( on October 4 that it has concluded tallying the votes in the September 30 early elections in all of Ukraine apart from Crimea, which still needs to submit some 2 percent of its voter protocols to Kyiv. With 99.93 percent of the ballots counted, the Party of Regions obtained 34.35 percent of the vote (175 mandates), the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc 30.73 percent (156 mandates), the Our Ukraine-People's-Self-Defense bloc 14.16 percent (72 mandates), the Communist Party 5.38 percent (27 mandates), the Lytvyn Bloc 3.96 percent (20 mandates), and the Socialist Party 2.86 percent (no mandate). JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on October 3 called in a televised speech for the five parties that won seats in the Verkhovna Rada to start talks on a new government. "Today I charge the Party of Regions, Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc [BYuT], Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense, and the other winners with a commission to start preliminary political consultations to form a majority in Ukraine's parliament and a Ukrainian government," Yushchenko read from a written statement. "We will have true political stability when the three key players -- the Party of Regions, BYuT, and Our Ukraine -- make compromises. So my key message to these political forces is that they must start political talks to formulate the basic rules of forming a majority in Ukraine's parliament and Ukraine's government, and building relations between those political forces that represent the government and opposition.... I pursue one goal: Ukraine should emerge united after the election. The election must not split Ukraine," Yushchenko added in a comment to the statement. JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on October 3 that he supports President Yushchenko's position regarding the formation of a coalition in the newly elected parliament, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I back and welcome such a position of the president. Ukraine must become stronger, not weaker, after this election campaign. Responsible politicians must do their utmost to meet halfway their personal ambitions for the sake of uniting the country," Yanukovych was quoted by his press service as saying. "Today we are starting negotiations on the formation of a coalition in the Verkhovna Rada," he added. But Yulia Tymoshenko, the head of the bloc bearing her name, rejected the idea of participating in a coalition jointly with the Party of Regions, Ukrainian media reported. "If a broad coalition is born, we will not participate in it. We will work in opposition. This will be more honest to the country and to the people," she told journalists after Yushchenko's televised statement. But she stressed that she does not believe that Yushchenko was actually proposing a coalition between the former Orange Revolution allies and the Party of Regions. "I suspect that when the president said that he urges all the political forces to hold negotiations, he meant negotiations with the Party of Regions as a potential parliamentary-opposition force," she noted. Tymoshenko added that she has failed to clarify the president's position with him, as he left for Germany right after making his statement. JM

Asked to comment on his call for coalition talks by journalists in Berlin later on October 3, President Yushchenko said that while it is clear that the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense have enough seats to form a ruling majority, they should adopt a constructive attitude toward other groups and offer them posts in government for the sake of political stability, the presidential website reported ( "If, in order to do so, opposition representatives must be given the chance to work at jobs in parliament to find a balance between the government and opposition, those jobs must be provided," Yushchenko said. He added that the same should apply to opposition representatives in the cabinet. "I am certain that such proposals will be considered," Yushchenko noted. JM

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksy II, offered on October 2 to help in talks to resolve Kosova's future, citing his church's "considerable experience in peace-building and peacemaking, and we stand ready to help." He did not indicate what Kosova's status should be, but in his speech, which he made in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe, he indicated that some of those forming international opinion "have never been to Kosovo and have never seen with their own eyes what Kosovo means for the Serbian people." According to Kosovar media reports, Aleksy said that any unilateral solution that did not take into account the position of the Serbian people would result in injustice and suffering. He also lamented the destruction of Orthodox culture in the contested region and called for greater efforts to preserve it. "There are many monuments that are sacred to the people of Serbia, and we cannot silently stand by when those monuments are being destroyed, despite the fact that they are under the protection of UNESCO and were built in the 12th, 13th, or 14th century," Aleksy said. The Serbian Orthodox Church strongly supports continued Serbian sovereignty over Kosova, and its senior cleric in Kosova, Bishop Artemije, has also said it would prefer Kosova to be independent rather than partitioned, given that "imposed independence would be looked at as a form of occupation, and every occupation of a territory lasts a period of time and ends" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16, 2007). AG

Ramush Haradinaj, a former prime minister of Kosova currently facing trial for war crimes, will be allowed to return to Kosova for his nephew's funeral, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) decided on October 3. Haradinaj is due to return to The Hague by October 7 after the burial of his 10-year-old relative, who was hit by a bus on October 2, and he has been ordered to keep the visit strictly private. The court refused earlier this summer to allow Haradinaj to return to Kosova during the court's summer recess on the grounds that his return could discourage witnesses from coming forward to give testimony. The court's case against Haradinaj, who faces 37 charges, is being hampered by the unwillingness of witnesses to appear in court, a fact that has prompted the ICTY to criticize the UN Mission in Kosova for its perceived close ties to Haradinaj (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2 and 28, and June 28, 2007). Questions about the UN mission's links with Haradinaj are at the heart of a current controversy involving the mission's second-in-command, Steven Schook, who in late September revealed that he is being investigated by the UN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 1, 2007). Haradinaj was indicted in 2005 and immediately gave himself up to the ICTY. He was allowed to remain in Kosova until March 2007, when his trial started. Haradinaj heads his party's list of candidates for elections to be held in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2007). AG

Serbian police have detained an army major, Zarko Surbatovic, suspected of siphoning off wages owed to Serbian veterans of the 1998-99 war in Kosova, local media reported on October 2. Surbatovic was at the time the head of the army's legal department. A police spokesman, Tomo Zoric, said Surbatovic enabled some reservists to take more than they were entitled to, depriving thousands of others of their dues, AP reported. Several thousand reservists from southern Serbia say they have yet to be paid, and have taken their complaints onto the streets, blocking roads and court and government buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, August 10, and September 18, 2007). Some 1,500 went on hunger strike between September 13 and 28 in a bid to force the Serbian authorities to address their complaints. AG

Albanian police on October 3 arrested four former managers of Albania's state-controlled oil company, Albpetrol, on charges of corruption, local and international media reported. All four left the company in 2006. Police have also issued arrest warrants for two former officials of another oil-sector company, the oil-distribution company ARMO, which is also state-owned. Their arrests bring the total number of corruption-related arrests in the past two months to 17. The highest-profile man arrested is a former deputy minister, Nikolin Jaka, whose then superior, current Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha, is under scrutiny by fellow politicians for his role in a series of tenders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2007). The arrests of the Albpetrol and ARMO officials also relate to tenders. Prime Minister Sali Berisha has announced a "zero-tolerance" policy toward government corruption, but has so far resisted the pressure to remove Basha from his post. According to Transparency International's "Corruption Perception Index" published in late September, Albania ranked as the most corrupt state in Southeastern Europe, at 105th out of 179. That is a mild improvement on its previous ranking, 111th. Corruption is a constant subject of criticism by the EU, which Albania hopes to join. AG

A spokesman for Taliban militants has publicly rejected Afghan President Hamid Karzai's latest offer of peace talks, saying foreign troops must first leave the country. But presidential sources insist that a growing number of militants would welcome negotiations to allow a return to the relative peace and comfort of family life.

Karzai said on September 29 that he is ready to give militants a position in the government in exchange for peace. Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi responded to the president's overture with a reiteration that there can be no such talks until U.S. and NATO troops leave Afghanistan.

But Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzada says the spokesman's position is not shared by all Taliban militants. Hamidzada says that a significant number of those fighters do not rule out laying down their weapons and participating in peace talks. "The information we have received from tribal elders indicates that different groups operating inside Afghanistan under the Taliban name are discussing this issue seriously," he says. "In this case, we don't expect huge developments in the very near future, but we hope that those who want peace and stability in Afghanistan will come step by step to join the ongoing peaceful process."

Karzai has set at least two preconditions for peace talks. He has said he would negotiate only with Afghan Taliban -- not with foreign fighters -- and he has ruled out including militants with links to Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Karzai has also said he would personally go and talk to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he knew his whereabouts or "his phone number."

There was no response from Mullah Omar -- who is among the most-wanted men by U.S. authorities, with a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head. There has also been no official U.S. reaction to reports of Karzai's peace offer.

Tim Foxley, a guest researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says that the president's willingness to engage extremist leaders like Mullah Omar will not be welcomed by his Western supporters -- particularly the United States. "These are not people that, certainly, the American government would have any interest in talking to," Foxley says. "So I think it would risk making a split between Karzai and his Western allies."

Some of Karzai's other international supporters appear to have accepted the Taliban presence as a harsh reality, and indicated their willingness to back Karzai's diplomacy with them. British Foreign Minister Des Browne has suggested that the Taliban will have to be involved in the country's peace process. Browne said the Taliban "are not going away more than I suspect Hamas are going away from Palestine."

Hamidzada says that during Karzai's trip to the UN General Assembly in New York last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of many countries sought a comprehensive strategy -- involving both military and diplomatic components -- in dealing with the Taliban.

Foxley says that, in theory, talking to moderate Taliban and separating them from hard-core fundamentalists and Al-Qaeda supporters would weaken the insurgency. But he acknowledges that it is not easy to identify "moderate Taliban" and find their partner for discussion.

Even Karzai has suggested that his government has had trouble finding a proper channel of communication with the Taliban. "We are ready to negotiate to bring peace [to] this country," Karzai said. "Continuation of the war, explosions, and suicide attacks should be stopped in any way possible. There were some contacts with [Taliban] in the past. But there is no specific, clear-cut line of communication -- I mean, there is no official place for communication with the Taliban. I wish there were such a place."

So as Karzai sends out trial balloons for peace talks, the question remains as to how authorities will verify the authenticity -- and firmness -- of the responses.

(Farangis Najibullah is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier on October 2 requested the appointment of a special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan in order to better facilitate international peace efforts there, AFP reported. In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, Bernier said that the Canadian government supports UN leadership in Afghanistan, and therefore supports having a high-level envoy specifically for the country. Bernier said the envoy role should be somewhat similar to that of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's mission in the Middle East, without going into specifics. Bernier reportedly discussed his proposal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and officials from other UN countries, including the United States and France. Bernier also stressed the need for more countries to participate in NATO's mission combating the Taliban-led insurgency in southern Afghanistan, adding that "no country can shoulder the task alone." Canada currently has 2,500 soldiers serving in Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces and 71 Canadian servicemen have been killed since Canada began its mission there in 2002, following the U.S.-led invasion a year earlier. JC

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on October 3 hinted that Canada's military support in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province may continue past its expected end date in February 2009, AFP reported. Harper told reporters during an unannounced press briefing that he cannot say "responsibly" that Canada's 2,500 troops will be ready to leave immediately at that time. He said it would be irresponsible for Canadian troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and to leave Kandahar Province, a Taliban stronghold, in "potential chaos." Harper explained that it is not the intention of his government to "root out every single piece of resistance to the government of Afghanistan," but rather the objective is "to transfer a viable situation to the Afghan armed forces." Canada's leaders have been debating the possible extension of the military mandate in parliament for several months now, with the prime minister himself shifting dramatically back-and-forth on the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12 and September 12, 2007). JC

The Japanese government on October 3 said it may cut back on its naval mission supporting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in an effort to settle a major dispute with the main opposition party, AFP reported. Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Japan will readdress the issues of refueling foreign supply ships in the Indian Ocean in order to ensure the country is not indirectly supporting military activities outside of Afghanistan. Legislation passed in Tokyo following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States authorized the refueling of ships and other logistical support to coalition forces fighting to overthrow the Taliban government. Opposition lawmakers, however, have alleged that fuel intended to supply coalition troops in Afghanistan instead has been redirected to support the U.S. mission in Iraq. One alternative would be to continue to refuel nonsupply ships in the Indian Ocean, said a top government spokesman. As Japan's Diet commenced discussions on the contentious issue, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called on members to extend the support mission, calling the fight against terror "difficult and long." Fukuda noted that the mission is supported by the UN Security Council, arguing that "continued assistance from the international community as a whole is necessary." The debate over the extension of the mandate, set to expire on November 1, heated up over the last few months -- including input from Afghan parliament members. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on September 12 over his inability to reconcile differences over that issue between his government and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23 and September 19, 2007). JC

Officials said late on October 3 that five Dutch servicemen were wounded in a battle in southern Afghanistan, AP reported. In a statement, the Dutch Defense Ministry said that five of its troops serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were injured in Oruzgan Province when militants opened fire on them. The injuries ranged from grazes to broken bones, the ministry said. Meanwhile in central Ghazni Province on October 2, dozens of militants brandishing heavy weapons attacked the Ajristan district center, setting fire to the building and killing two policemen, police chief Ali Shah Amhadzai said. Those officers able to get away escaped to a neighboring village, Amhadzai said, adding that police reinforcements supported by U.S.-led coalition troops returned to the remote area the next day to seek out the rebels. According to an AP poll of insurgency-linked deaths, 5,086 people have been killed in the first nine months of this year, whereas the agency tallied only 4,019 deaths total in all of 2006. JC

The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the French charge d'affaires in Tehran, Jean Grebling, on October 3 to express its displeasure at "recent remarks" by French officials and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner concerning Iran's nuclear program, Radio Farda and IRNA reported. Kouchner told French radio on October 2 that the situation in the Middle East is "terribly, terribly" dangerous and would become more complicated with an Iranian atomic bomb, Reuters reported. Everything the Iranians do, Kouchner said, "prompts experts to think they may be moving toward nuclear bombs, not the civilian program to which they are absolutely entitled." He said Western states must "work on sanctions," so Iran will take them seriously. In the absence of an ambassador, Grebling was summoned by the Foreign Ministry and informed of Iran's displeasure with France's increasingly "negative" tone over Iran's program, and also France's apparent complaisance toward the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), a militant group with members in France that is considered a terrorist group by Iran, the EU, and United States. Grebling said he will inform his government of Iran's views, and told the unnamed ministry official that the MKO remains under French judicial "control" and that France has no sympathy for its members, IRNA reported. VS

Foreign Minister Kouchner has written to EU ministers urging them to intensify economic sanctions on Iran without waiting for a new UN Security Council resolution, Reuters reported on October 3, citing a copy of the letter. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany may debate new sanctions on Iran in late November, depending on the contents of reports they are to receive on Iran's program from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the EU's chief foreign-policy official, Javier Solana. Kouchner reminded EU states in his letter that "our responsibility and credibility" are at stake and the EU cannot wait for an "Iranian fait accompli," if it wishes to reach a "negotiated solution" with Tehran. He proposed that "we should start now to explore together the possibility of new European measures" against Tehran, alongside Security Council resolutions. Iran, he wrote, is gradually moving to master nuclear fuel-making technology, and the "international community" should absolutely avoid a "catastrophic choice between Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and a military intervention to stop it," Reuters reported. VS

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in Paris on October 3 that "we must not give up on diplomacy" concerning Iran's nuclear program, but expressed his support for "strengthened economic sanctions" and intensified diplomacy to persuade Iran to curb its contested program. He told French parliamentarians that France is concerned about Iran's determination to continue with uranium enrichment -- a key part of the fuel-making process -- "in the absence of an identified and controlled civilian nuclear program," AP reported. He said the French government will do everything to help impose the "logic of peace and security" on the Middle East. He cited North Korea's apparent offer to abandon its nuclear program as an instance of a seemingly hopeless situation resolved by diplomacy. Fillon's position is in contrast with comments by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who said in Rome on October 3 that boosting sanctions before talking to Iran might not be the best choice. He told reporters that Western states should for now "take advantage" of the "window" of opportunity provided by Iran's cooperation with the IAEA. VS

Gunmen shot dead an imam late on October 2 in the district of Khash, in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Radio Farda reported on October 3, citing Iranian news reports. A similar shooting recently took place in western Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 26, August 22 and October 2, 2007). Fars news agency blamed "armed bandits" and IRNA blamed "terrorists backed by the White House" or "American terrorists" for the fatal shooting of Hojatoleslam Mehdi Tavakkoli, apparently as he preached in the village of Eftekharabad in Khash. Fars also described the assailants as terrorists intent on fomenting Sunni-Shi'ite discord in the area, which is part of a province with a sizeable Sunni population, in contrast with the Shi'ite majority in the rest of Iran. The province is also the scene of drug and banditry-related violence. VS

A pro-Ba'athist website in Iraq on October 3 announced the establishment of a new alliance of armed groups to be headed by former Iraqi Vice President and Ba'ath Party leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. The alliance, called the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation, unanimously elected al-Duri as its general commander, according to the statement. Some 22 jihadist factions allegedly joined the alliance, including the Army of the Naqshabandi Order, the Al-Murabitun Army, the Al-Sahabah Army, the Jihad Brigades in Al-Basrah, and the Liberation of the South Brigades. The alliance pledged to end what it called the U.S. occupation of Iraq and said it will work to release all detainees, and cancel all postwar laws, and restore the army and Iraqi security forces to their prewar status. KR

The Iraqi parliament dedicated its October 3 session to discussing last week's U.S. Senate resolution that called for the establishment of three federal regions in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 3, 2007), Iraqi media reported. Following a debate over the intent and substance of the U.S. resolution, the parliament failed to pass its own resolution rebuffing the U.S. resolution. Instead, parliamentarians agreed to issue a statement stressing Iraq's national unity. Deputy speaker of parliament Khalid al-Atiyah read the statement, which was broadcast live on state-run television. The statement said the resolution set "a serious precedent in international relations and an interference in Iraqi internal affairs and sovereignty [that is] enshrined in the UN Charter." It continued, "We condemn all attempts to carry out a de facto partition of Iraq...[and] call on all political forces to react to this resolution through unity and cohesion among them to maintain the unity of Iraq as stipulated in the constitution." KR

Brigadier General Qasim Ata briefed Iraqi media on the progress of the Law Enforcement Plan on October 3, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Ata said that from September 15 to September 30, 26 terrorists were killed, 179 captured, and 165 suspected terrorists arrested. Twenty-one kidnapping victims were rescued and 77 displaced families returned to their homes in Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi security forces seized more than 10,000 pieces of medium- and heavy-caliber hardware, 192 weapons, 112 rockets, 122 different types of mortars, 382 explosive cables and detonators, 56 communication devices, 89 kilograms of TNT explosives, and 80 kilograms of C-4 explosives. Ata said 74 civilians were killed over the two-week period and 165 wounded in terrorist attacks. Seven Iraqi security personnel were killed and 73 wounded. He said there are currently 6,542 detainees in Iraqi prisons, adding "1,814 have been released, 1,509 have been transferred [to the Justice Ministry], and 1,220 are detained in prisons under the Baghdad Operations Command." Ata said the Baghdad Operations Room is currently reviewing the curfew, which runs from midnight until 5 a.m., and may revise it during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. KR

Ata confirmed that Iraqi security forces raided the Baghdad office of the daily "Al-Mada" on October 2. Commenting on the raid, he said: "We have some initial information [and] have asked the commander of the Al-Rasafah region to provide us with the details of the raid. It was raided on the basis of information that important documents related to some security issues [were held on the premises]." Ata reminded journalists that the government has cautioned that "no place would be immune from action" by security forces implementing the Law Enforcement Plan. He said that once the regional commander briefs the Baghdad Operations Room on the raid, the details will be made public. "Al-Mada" daily claims to be independent and not affiliated with any party or militia. KR

Al-Diwaniyah police have arrested the alleged assassins of an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, "Al-Mu'tamar" reported on October 3. Sheikh Ahmad Abd al-Karim Bashir was gunned down in Al-Diwaniyah on September 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2007). Sheikh Husayn al-Dudayri, head of Al-Diwaniyah Governorate Council's Security Committee, confirmed the assassins' arrest but did not reveal the identity or number of those detained. Al-Dudayri said all those arrested were from Al-Diwaniyah, and they were detained during a security operation carried out in one of the city's slums, "Al-Mu'tamar" reported. KR

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's website reported on October 3 that Turkey has banned Iraqi airlines from using its airspace. It said that Turkey previously prevented flights between Germany and Iraqi Kurdistan, apparently through a similar ban, but later agreed to permit the flights. "As passengers prepared to [fly on October 2] from Frankfurt and Munich to Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, Hamburg International Company informed Zozik Airline Company in Kurdistan that Turkey decided to stop all the journeys [after] 6:30 p.m. Berlin time using Turkish airspace," the website reported. Zozik Airline Director Nawzad Dizay'i confirmed the ban. KR

President Jalal Talabani said on October 3 that Iraq has ordered $100 million in weapons to arm its police force from China, reported on October 4. Talabani contended that the United States is unable to supply weapons quickly enough to arm the police. "The capacity of the factories here are not enough to provide us quickly with all that we need, even for the army," Talabani said. "One of our demands is to accelerate the delivery of the arms to the Iraqi Army." Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir al-Sumaydi'i expressed frustration in recent months over the inability to obtain arms from the United States, which he said impaired the Iraqi armed forces ability to deal with insurgents. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report said that 30 percent of the arms supplied to Iraq since 2004 remain unaccounted for, suggesting that the arms have been transferred to militias or possibly insurgent groups. KR