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Newsline - April 11, 2008

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on April 10 that recent comments by Polish President Lech Kaczynski linking the resumption of Russia-EU talks with the progress of Ukraine and Georgia toward NATO membership are unacceptable, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2008). Lavrov said that Kaczynski's remarks "sound as if it were the European Union that should put a veto on the will of the Ukrainian people, that should put a veto on the positions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and as if it were the European Union that should give the North Atlantic alliance the right to put a veto on the European Union's policy toward Russia. So, this is probably another facet of how they understand the term 'European solidarity' in some European capitals and how they want to use it as a magic wand to run the world today." Russia has frequently sought to split the newer members of the EU and NATO from the older ones by mocking and bullying the former while flattering and offering lucrative business deals to the latter. In Brussels on April 10, European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio also criticized Kaczynski's remarks. Tardio said that "Poland has committed formally to support the adoption of the negotiating directives on the new [EU-Russia] agreement once Russian restrictions on exports of plant products are lifted.... As a matter of principle we do not mix NATO membership with EU affairs. NATO enlargement is something that is for NATO and its members." On a visit to Helsinki on April 10, Kaczynski appeared to moderate his earlier stance, telling reporters that he did not link the Russia-EU talks with NATO expansion and was "misinterpreted" in the media, Reuters reported. He argued that he merely said that the EU should not "rush" into talks with Moscow. The news agency suggested that a recording of his original interview indicates that he indeed linked the two issues. The Warsaw daily "Rzeczpospolita" wrote on April 10 that foreign policy is the constitutional prerogative of the government, and not of the president. PM

In Moscow on April 11, the nationalist "RBK Daily" wrote that Poland's behavior in holding up EU-Russia talks is dictated purely by "geopolitical considerations." The paper quoted Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin as saying that "Poland wants to become the leading European power." The same day, the Russian daily "Vedomosti" argued that Ukraine is the "gateway to Europe." The paper suggested that U.S. President George W. Bush made an "error of strategic magnitude" at the recent NATO summit by seeking Europe's agreement on missile defense while relegating the question of Ukrainian NATO membership to a future gathering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9, 2008). "Vedomosti" wrote that "missile a white elephant, something meant only to nourish the military-industrial complex. It is not needed against Iran and is pointless against Russia. Experts say that the system will never work with any degree of efficiency worth mentioning." The paper stressed, however, that "Ukraine is Russia's gateway into the very heart of the continent, enabling it to become a player in the Balkans, on the western and southern shores of the Black Sea, and in Central Europe as well. Without Ukraine, Russia is stuck in the northeastern corner of the map of the continent." The daily continued by saying that by "permitting Ukraine to wander out of its orbit for good, Russia will bid a fond farewell to its own chances to recover as one of the major powers in Europe, as it was in the second half of the 20th century. With Ukraine consigned to Western Europe, Russia will never succeed in nurturing into existence along its borders an alternative, independent economic and political zone that other post-Soviet countries could join." Britain's "The Economist" wrote on April 11 that "America's policy in Eastern Europe is running out of steam. Earlier successes, such as expanding NATO to the Baltic states, are now overshadowed by disunity. Some newer NATO members even view Germany as something of a 'fifth column' for Russia. Given the uncertainty over what a new American presidency will bring, the outlook for many in Europe's ex-communist states is worrying" (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 17, 2008). PM

On his first visit to Russia since taking office in January 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Moscow on April 10 that he is "always grateful for the strong support and cooperation of the Russian government on all the matters of the United Nations, whether on issues of climate change, development, counterterrorism, peace and security, or peacekeeping operations," Russian media reported. He added that "Russia is one of the largest contributors in terms of financial contributions and also peacekeeping operations, but with increased development in the economy as well as the political high profile, I hope that Russia can do more" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2008). "The Moscow Times" reported on April 11 that Foreign Minister Lavrov did not say at Ban's April 10 press conference whether Moscow has any plans to give the UN more money, but Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said elsewhere on April 10 that Russia will "increase its contributions in line with its growing economic potential." He noted that "Russia plans to double the amount it donates for international assistance to about $500 million in the next few years, up from the current $211 million." Yakovenko stressed that the increase would amount to "a reinforcement of Russia's political positions in other countries" but could not say exactly how much more Russia will give to the UN. He denied a recent Russian press report that Moscow plans "a 20-fold hike in its UN contributions to roughly the same level as those of the United States." "The Moscow Times" wrote on April 11 that "Russia's total planned contribution [to the UN] for this year stands at $24.7 million. By comparison, fellow Security Council members the United States, at $453.3 million, and China, with $54.9 million, will pay significantly more." PM

Interfax on April 10 quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry statement as saying that some unnamed "international missions in Kosovo are plotting moves against the Kosovo Serbs designed to provoke retaliatory measures from them." The statement suggested that "ground is being prepared for the large-scale use of force against the Serb population of the province to make it accept independence unilaterally proclaimed by Pristina. If this information is correct, it is obvious that the international missions in Kosovo have failed to draw lessons from the tragic events in Mitrovica in March of this year. Such [developments] threaten a rapid breakup of the province and a large-scale conflict in the region." Moscow and Belgrade have frequently forecast unspecified dire consequences as a result of Kosova's declaration of independence on February 17, which was backed by the United States and most EU member countries. NATO and the UN have said that the Serbian riots in Mitrovica were orchestrated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 25, and 26, March 19, and April 1, 2008). Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac said in late March that the riots in Belgrade and Mitrovica were "coordinated and an agreement between Slobodan Samardzic [Serbia's minister for Kosova] and the prime minister," Vojislav Kostunica, without the knowledge of the rest of the government. Britain's "The Times" reported from Moscow on April 11 that unnamed "Western diplomats fear" that UN Secretary-General Ban might "hand Russia significant concessions on the newly independent Kosovo" in a bid to secure Moscow's backing for a second term for himself. Both President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov raised the Kosova issue with Ban on his current visit to Moscow. "The Times" added that "Ban may also be pressured into naming a facilitator to attempt to renew talks between the Serbs and Kosovars, diplomats say." If the report proves correct, it would mark a significant change of position on Kosova for Ban. He said on January 28 that Kosova is a "European issue" and primarily the responsibility of the EU, a position he has since maintained. The United States, EU, and Kosova have said that last year's talks between Belgrade and Prishtina led nowhere, and were designed by Belgrade and Moscow to buy time. PM

General Yury Baluyevsky, the head of Russia's General Staff, said in Moscow on April 11 that he is "convinced that President-elect...Medvedev will definitely pursue the course that has been in place over the past eight years, including in the military area," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 14, 2008). Baluyevsky argued that Russia should give special priority to developing air and "aerospace" defense. Baluyevsky said that if Georgia or Ukraine joins NATO, "Russia will take unambiguous action toward ensuring its interests along its borders. These will not only be military measures, but also steps of a different character." He did not elaborate. PM

The Russian government has ordered the Regional Development Ministry to prepare a system for assessing the performance of regional authorities, reported on April 11. Regional Development Minister Dmitry Kozak told reporters on April 10 following a cabinet meeting that the system will reveal those regions that have problems requiring organizational and methodological help from the federal government. Kozak said that regional governors should, in accordance with a defined procedure, report to the cabinet on how they are contributing to the development of their respective regions. According to Kozak, the government will introduce a rating system for Russia's regions that will become the basis on which the president will decide whether or not he has confidence in a given governor. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on April 11 that this rating system will allow Vladimir Putin to retain influence over regional leaders after he steps down as president and becomes prime minister. "Vedomosti" noted on April 11 that assessing the performance of governors has been the prerogative of the presidential administration and that a presidential decree issued last year laid out the criteria for judging the effectiveness of regional administrations. Citing unnamed sources in the Unified Russia party, among others, "Vedomosti" reported on April 10 that the presidential envoys to Russia's seven federal districts may be turned into governmental envoys to the federal districts either subordinated directly to Prime Minister Putin rather than President Dmitry Medvedev or subordinated to both. However, Kozak said on April 10 that he had "no information about any resubordination plans" involving the presidential envoys to the federal districts, ITAR-TASS reported. JB

The Bureau of Unified Russia party's Supreme Council decided during a meeting April 10 to invite both President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and outgoing President Putin, who has agreed to serve as Medvedev's prime minister, to join the party, "Kommersant" reported on April 11. According to the daily, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who heads Unified Russia, told reporters prior to the closed meeting: "We have always invited and will invite both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev into our party." Gryzlov said on April 7 that servicemen do not have the right to join a political party and that since the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, there are "impediments" to Medvedev joining the party once he becomes president. Earlier, Gryzlov confirmed that he intends to ask Putin to take over as the head of Unified Russia at a party conference on April 14-15 and said that Medvedev would be offered a seat on the party's political council, but is not expected to become a member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 8, 2008). Earlier this month, Gryzlov said that the Duma will confirm Putin as prime minister on May 8, one day after Medvedev's inauguration as president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 2). "RBK Daily" reported on April 11 that Putin may end up heading Unified Russia without joining its ranks, either by becoming chairman of the Bureau of its Supreme Council or taking up a new position in the party specially created for him. In any case, becoming head of Unified Russia may give Putin the ability, as analyst Aleksei Makarkin told "RBK Daily," to "control the parliament and the regional elite more strictly," given the party's constitutional majority in the State Duma and control of regional legislatures. JB

The Investigative Committee on April 10 summoned for questioning and then detained Yelena Mardashova, an accountant with the Nemesida private security firm, on suspicion of giving a bribe to Federal Antinarcotics Committee Lieutenant General Aleksandr Bulbov, who was arrested in October 2007 on charges of abuse of office and illegal wiretapping. "Kommersant" reported on April 11 that Nemesida is owned by Bulbov's wife, Galina Bulbova. The arrest of Bulbov and several other senior Federal Antinarcotics Committee officials last autumn was widely seen as part of an ongoing power struggle among influential "siloviki" pitting deputy Kremlin chief of staff Igor Sechin, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, and Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin -- among others -- against a putatively more "liberal" group that is said to include Federal Antinarcotics Committee Chairman Viktor Cherkesov, Presidential Security Service chief Viktor Zolotov, and Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika, among others. The "liberal" group is reportedly allied with President-elect Dmitry Medvedev. JB

OFFICE OF RIGHTS GROUP RAIDED BY UNKNOWN PERSONS on April 10 quoted representatives of the For Human Rights movement as saying that a group of people in civilian dress burst into a Moscow apartment that serves as the group's offices late on April 9, demanding that the premises be vacated. A lawyer for the group, Svetlana Davydova, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the people who burst into the For Human Rights office falsely claimed they were the apartment's owners. For Human Rights Director Lev Ponomaryov told the radio station that his colleagues called the police during the incident but that the police officers who arrived at the scene told the two sides to sort things out among themselves and left. Davydova and her colleague Karina Moskalenko said that at the time of the raid they were working on an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the submission deadline for which expired on April 10. They said the appeal might not be filed in time as a result of the incident. JB

During a meeting of a counterterrorism committee in Grozny, Russian Deputy Interior Minister Arkady Yedelev reported on April 10 that the number of abductions in Chechnya decreased substantially last year, reported. General Yedelev noted that there were 21 kidnappings in Chechnya in 2007, as compared to 845 abductions reported in 2002, and hailed the improvement as "the result of the coordinated and successful performance" of security forces in Chechnya. He also stressed that several international human rights organizations, including the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have recognized the decline in abductions in the republic. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, who arrived in the Chechen capital after visiting neighboring Daghestan the day before, also attended the meeting and praised the activities of the Chechen counterterrorism committee and attributed three-fold decrease in the number of the registered terrorist attacks to the work of the Chechen antiterrorism committee. RG

Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev on April 9 urged the police to adopt a more aggressive effort to combat "corruption and economic crimes" in the southern Russian republic, according to In a meeting of senior law enforcement officials attended by Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, the president explained that although "good results" were achieved by police in fighting terrorism in Daghestan, "certain shortcomings" remained in the effort to combat "economic security." He further criticized what he said was a loss of sizable funds from the sate budget "due to the inaction of law enforcement agencies in fighting cases of tax evasion." He concluded by calling on police officers in Daghestan to address "the issue of exposing high-ranking bribe takers" and to improve the prosecution rates of such crimes. RG

The Pravoberezhny district court in North Ossetia formally closed on April 8 a criminal case against Ella Kesayeva, the co-chairwoman of the Voice Of Beslan human rights organization, reported. The formal court decision was a procedural affirmation of an earlier decision last month by the prosecutor's office in North Ossetia to annul criminal charges brought against Kesayeva and two other members of the Voice of Beslan organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 3, 2008). The Voice of Beslan organization represents the survivors and relatives of those killed in the deadly September 2004 hostage-taking incident by Chechen militants at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, which culminated in a fiery raid in which most of the more than 330 fatalities occurred. RG

Newly appointed Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian promised on April 10 to implement "ambitious programs" to be carried out through the "strenuous work" of "a committed team," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A former head of the Armenian Central Bank, Prime Minister Sarkisian (no relation to new President Serzh Sarkisian) added that he intended to ensure that the new government will meet stated budget targets and manage expected price rises, but warned that it seemed likely that inflation would soon outpace government projections. The prime minister's comments follow an earlier meeting with the outgoing cabinet, during which President Sarkisian asserted that based on the new premier's leadership, "the government will indeed implement ambitious programs in the years to come." President Sarkisian also instructed the officials that the coming priority for the incoming government would center on the need for "more ambitious programs," noting that "the first stage" of reforms has been completed. RG

Speaking to reporters in Yerevan, opposition parliamentarian Stepan Safarian on April 10 expressed his belief that there are opportunities to overcome the crisis in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But Safarian, a deputy from the opposition Heritage Party, warned of the necessity for resolute steps by the government, explaining that "otherwise, the authorities may find themselves in 10 times as big and undesirable a crisis than the deadlock that has been created for the country's political opposition today." Referring to newly inaugurated President Serzh Sarkisian, Safarian added that it would be best to give the president and his new government an initial 100-day period to articulate and implement their polices before judging them, but stressed that "there are things, first of all, such as ensuring human rights, immediately releasing political prisoners, for which, I think, 10 days are enough to see how far the words of the current authorities match their actions." RG

In a statement released in Yerevan, former Armenian President and opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian called on April 10 for an end to an ongoing hunger strike by a group of about two dozen of his supporters, appealing to them to spare themselves for a "further struggle," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The former president added that while he recognizes "the importance of this extreme means of political struggle" and "deeply appreciates the feat of those who resorted to hunger strikes," they must their strikes because their "health, unbending will, and determination will be required for a more effective contribution to the popular struggle at later stages." According to Arsen Babayan, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry's Department of Penitentiaries, some 23 people in custody are currently on hunger strike, including parliamentarian Hakob Hakobian, former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Karapet Rubinian, former customs chief Yerjanik Abgarian, and former Deputy National Security Minister of National Gurgen Yeghiazarian, among others. RG

An unnamed press spokesperson within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry on April 9 accused Armenia of illegally providing weapons to Kurdish rebel groups in Turkey, APA news agency reported. According to the spokesperson, in addition to the arms-trafficking charges, Armenia was also "involved in sending mercenaries" to conflict zones around the world. The accusations further argued that Armenia provided some $2 million in arms and ammunition to the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist organization last year and recruited "mercenaries of Armenian origin from Armenia and Middle Eastern countries" to fight alongside "PKK terrorists fighting against Turkey." In response to the accusations, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian "categorically denied" the charges, characterizing the accusations as "absurd statements" without any basis in fact or evidence. RG

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) opened on April 10 an election observation mission to monitor the Georgian parliamentary elections set for May 21, the Caucasus Press reported. The establishment of the election monitoring mission, which follows a formal invitation from the Georgian authorities, is headed by Slovenian diplomat Boris Frlec and consists of 14 core staff based in Tbilisi and another 28 long-term observers deployed across the country. In addition, ODIHR has requested 350 short-term observers from OSCE participating states to be deployed immediately ahead of the elections. The observers are to monitor the opening of polling stations, the voting process, and the counting and tabulation of ballots. In a meeting following the formal opening of the office, Georgian Foreign Minister Davit Bakradze met on April 10 with Frlec and promised to extend "cooperation on all the specific issues on which the Foreign Ministry is working so that the election process goes ahead unhindered," Georgian Public Television reported. Frlec also led the OSCE's election monitoring mission to Armenia for that country's May 2007 parliamentary election. The Georgian mission is also empowered to assess the electoral process in terms of its conformity with OSCE standards and will closely monitor campaign activities, media coverage, the performance of the election administration and relevant government bodies, and the resolution of election-related disputes, among other tasks. RG

In a statement released from Vienna, OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, vowed on April 10 to "seriously look for solutions to the so-called frozen conflicts" in the region and pledged "to re-energize efforts toward [the] peaceful settlement of these conflicts," the Caucasus Press reported. The OSCE chairman added that he continued "to support the existing negotiation mechanisms, including the OSCE Minsk Group and its co-chairs" engaged in the separate mediation effort seeking to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. RG

Saparbek Nurpeisov, a spokesman for the Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office, on April 10 said that there are 1,870 non-traditional religious organizations and sects in Kazakhstan whose activities pose a threat to national security and stability, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. According to Nurpeisov, the religious sects are expanding their activities and growing significantly, with more than 40,000 members in total. He warned of the threat posed by "representatives of a number of occult and mystical dogmas," whom he accused of "actively destructive activities in Kazakhstan." Nurpeisov named the Scientology and "Novaya Zhizn" (New Life) movements as among the most active sects. He added that "criminal and administrative charges were brought against 50 heads and active members of non-traditional religious 2007-2008, while 13 foreigners were expelled from Kazakhstan for illegal missionary activity." RG

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on April 10 signed a decree ratifying a bilateral agreement on "joint control over the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The agreement was reached in July 2006, but its ratification was delayed by the two sides' hesitation over the introduction of "one-stop" border procedures that would significantly ease border control and crossing measures. The agreement calls for the establishment of new checkpoints and joint efforts to monitor the flow of people, goods, and across the border. Separately, an earlier Kazakh-Kyrgyz border agreement was also approved on April 10 by the Kyrgyz parliament's committee for international affairs and interparliamentary cooperation, AKIpress reported. That agreement, from October 2001, focuses on the delineation of two previously contested border areas. The Kyrgyz parliament is scheduled to consider Kazakh-Kyrgyz border issues on April 11. RG

The Kyrgyz parliament on April 11 is scheduled to discuss the planned handover of four hotels near Lake Issyk-Kul, a popular resort area, to Uzbekistan, AKIpress reported. In March, Kyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Askar Beshimov announced the start of preliminary negotiations with Uzbek officials about unresolved territorial issues, including Uzbekistan's claims of ownership on the four resorts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 17, 2008). Although the handover of the resorts to Uzbekistan seems likely, there is mounting public opposition to the move, as the Kyrgyz opposition seeks to use the issue to mobilize their supporters. RG

Police in Bishkek on April 10 arrested about 50 youth activists from three opposition parties, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and ITAR-TASS reported. The activists were protesting the Kyrgyz government's decision to hand over three disputed plots of land to Kazakhstan as part of an eventual border agreement with that country, according to Reuters. The demonstration outside the parliament building was organized by the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, and the Jashyldar (Green) party. Kyrgyz opposition parties are planning another large demonstration on April 12. RG

Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski reported to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on April 10 that Belarus's gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 10.5 percent in January-March 2008 compared to the same period last year, Belarusian media reported. The government expects that inflation in 2008 will not exceed 8 percent. Independent economic expert Leanid Zlotnikau told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on April 11 that the country's good economic performance should primarily be attributed to "external factors," such as Russian oil supplies for processing and resale as well as $5 billion worth of Russia's "assistance in various forms." According to Zlotnikau, the Belarusian government underreports the inflation rate, diminishing it by a factor of 1.5-2. Zlotnikau also said that the amount of insolvent enterprises in Belarus has now increased to 60 percent, up from some 50 percent a year ago. JM

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has sent a note to the Russian Foreign Ministry requesting urgent explanations concerning the recent statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Ukraine, Interfax-Ukraine reported on April 10, quoting Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Kyrylych. The Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on April 8 that at the Russia-NATO Council meeting during last week's NATO summit in Bucharest, Putin "actually threatened that Russia will begin tearing away Crimea and eastern Ukraine" from Ukraine if the country is offered NATO membership. "You realize, George, that Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? A part of its territory belongs to Eastern Europe, while another part, a significant one, was given over by us!" Putin reportedly told U.S. President George W. Bush during the meeting. The newspaper attributed this quote to a source in "the delegation of a NATO country" to the summit. Meanwhile, Lavrov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station on April 9 that Georgia's and Ukraine's potential NATO membership will be seen by Russia as a threat to its security. "We will do everything to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from being accepted into NATO," Lavrov stressed. JM

Presidential Secretariat head Viktor Baloha said on April 10 that decisions on land sales by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's cabinet give evidence to closer cooperation between the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and the opposition Party of Regions as well as show that the BYuT is ruining the parliamentary coalition and coming into an open conflict with President Viktor Yushchenko, Interfax-Ukraine reported on April 10. "The openly selfish and crudely pragmatic actions of the team of Yulia Tymoshenko are being masked by pleasant and enthusiastic statements about unity, democracy, and fighting corruption. However, in fact, political and business schemes designed to give a monopoly to the BYuT and its bosses in the political arena, in power and economics, are being created. Shadow deals and secret agreements, which should ensure the authoritative and financial assistance to this political force, are being made and signed," the presidential press service quoted Baloha as saying. "I value the unity of the democratic coalition too highly to let some bureaucrats and outsiders destroy this unity," Tymoshenko later said in response to Baloha's criticism. The same day, the Cabinet of Ministers passed a new resolution regulating the procedure for holding auctions of land not intended for farming. Earlier this week President Viktor Yushchenko suspended a government resolution of February 27 on such auctions. JM

On April 10, the 42-member Bosnian parliament voted 22-19, with one abstention, to approve a compromise package on police reform, the passage of which is a prerequisite for Bosnia-Herzegovina to qualify for a EU Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and Reuters reported. Prime Minister Nikola Spiric told reporters that "better days are [now] ahead of us, and also a lot of work related to [finalizing] the SAA." Reuters noted that the unification of the police forces of the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation will be "largely cosmetic" and a "watered-down version" of the original proposal. This is because of Bosnian Serbs' reluctance to lose control over their police force, which they regard as an important pillar of the Republika Srpska's "sovereignty." Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, worked out the compromise, under which "state bodies will control and coordinate the work of various agencies performing some police activities at the state level, but will not interfere with the work of regional police forces," Reuters reported. The compromise leaves the establishment of state control over a fully unified police force to the drafting of a new constitution at an unspecified future date. When the Dayton peace accords, on which Bosnia's constitutional order is based, were first drafted in 1995, Bosnian Serb leaders told their voters that the agreement established the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska, a point they have argued ever since. Muslim leaders in particular stress that the Dayton accords' provisions were not meant to be permanent, but rather to evolve in the direction of an integrated single state. Bakir Izetbegovic, who heads the parliamentary faction of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, told RFE/RL on April 10 that the latest compromise means that Bosnia will get an SAA, but not real police reform. PM

The Serbian caretaker government voted on April 10 to cancel a $466 million agreement to sell RTB Bor, Serbia's largest copper mining and metallurgical company, to the Austrian consortium A-Tec Industries, because the buyer failed to make the down payment as stipulated in the sales agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The cabinet agreed unanimously to restart talks with the Russian company SMR, which is owned by prominent oligarch Oleg Deripaska. SMR previously offered $370 million for Bor, which did not satisfy Serbian Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic. A previous agreement to sell Bor, which owns the largest copper mine in the Balkans, to Romania's Cuprom for $400 million fell through in April 2007. PM

Cabinet ministers, government officials, and members of parliament make up much of an unofficial list of the "100 Richest Tajiks" published recently by the independent news agency Avesta.

Like "Forbes" magazine's famous list of the richest people in the world, the Avesta list gives the names and positions of the wealthiest Tajiks, who include just one woman. But unlike "Forbes," the Tajik list does not cite the total fortune that each of the wealthiest Tajiks is said to possess.

Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia, where the average monthly salary is around $35 a month and government ministers officially earn up to $100 monthly.

According to Avesta, rich people in Tajikistan do not officially disclose their assets in order to avoid paying taxes. This makes it impossible to know exactly how large their financial fortunes are. So Tajikistan's list of the 100 richest people is alphabetical.

The news agency wrote that its list of wealthy Tajiks is based on the quantity and prices of their houses, cars, businesses, and other assets, as well as the frequency with which they appear in expensive restaurants. Avesta said the list does not include wealthy Tajiks living abroad or those who made their fortunes in drug-related activities.

Several former Islamic and democratic opposition figures, including Mahmadruzi Iskandarov and Mirzo Ziyoev, made the list. So did several former commanders of the one-time People's Front, such as Yakub Salimov and Ghaffor Mirzoev, which fought against the opposition in the Tajik civil war in the 1990s.

The four men rose to their high official positions after the national reconciliation in 1997 that ended the war, having amassed vast fortunes. All of them except Ziyoev eventually ended up in prison after falling out of favor with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

Hoji-Akbar Turajonzoda, a parliamentary deputy and a prominent member of the Islamic opposition, is also on the list. Turajonzoda told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that, unlike many others, he does not hide the fact he has other sources of income beyond his official salary.

"If you're talking about the money, I don't have $1 million in cash," he says. "Well, I own a cotton mill, which is very expensive. I bought this factory for $100,000 a long time ago. I don't know how much would it cost now. I have a nice house in my village. I bought two apartments in Dushanbe during the Soviet times, but I gave them to my sons. If these things are considered huge wealth -- well then, thank God, I must be rich."

Turajonzoda said he makes around $200,000 annually from his private company.

Many other rich Tajiks -- or so-called "New Tajiks" -- are very reluctant to publicly acknowledge their wealth simply because many of them do not officially run or own a private business. Most are supposed to be making ends meet with the modest salaries they earn as government officials, diplomats, and lawmakers.

Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov has also made the list of the richest Tajiks. He once said that all of his "employees live on a humble salary they get from the government and none of them is involved in any other business activities outside of their official jobs."

Asked about the many expensive cars parked outside the Prosecutor-General's Office, Bobokonov said they are "gifts my colleagues' received from their relatives."

"It's impossible," he says, "to buy expensive, foreign-made cars with our salaries. We have made it clear that if our employees get involved in other business activities they can no longer work for the Prosecutor-General's Office."

Olim Boboev, the leader of the Economic Reforms Party, said most government officials and their friends and relatives have privatized the majority of government-owned enterprises, paying symbolic prices in acquiring them.

Many ordinary Tajiks are not surprised that government officials, police, and judiciary workers are wealthy because they are notorious for exploiting their official positions and extorting bribes in a country where corruption is endemic.

A survey conducted in Tajikistan in 2007 by the United Nations Development Program and the Tajik Strategic Research Center concluded that corruption and bribery are "the key problem for the country, for the national government, for everyday life, and for the human environment." It added that corruption slows reforms and leads to the "moral degradation of the society."

Apart from those who occupy high government posts -- including President Rahmon, Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, as well as the heads of both chambers of parliament -- there are also a number of former ministers and deputy ministers on the list of the richest Tajiks. Friends and relatives of these people are also on the list.

Along with politicians and a few businesspeople, three famous singers are also on the list, including the lone woman -- 27-year-old singer Shabnami Surayo.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.

At least 10 schools have been attacked throughout Afghanistan in the past three weeks, officials of the Ministry of Education told IRIN on April 10. Three schools in Kunduz, two in Kandahar, and one school each in Helmand, Paktia, Khost, Wardak, and Farah provinces have been attacked by armed assailants, believed to be associated with Taliban insurgents. "Nearly all the attacks on schools take place during the night, so there are no casualties among students," said Hamid Elmi, a Ministry of Education spokesman in Kabul. According to ministry statistics quoted by IRIN, there were 2,450 attacks on schools between March 2006 and February 2008, in which 235 students, teachers, and other workers were killed. About 500 schools have remained closed due to insecurity, particularly in the south. None of Afghanistan's Islamic schools, or madrassahs, have come under attack, however. "Though the government promotes both madrassahs and secular schools, the Taliban only attack [secular] schools," Elmi said. AT

A new U.S. military commander, Major General Jeffrey J. Schloesser of the 101st Airborne Division, has taken over the leadership of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, replacing Major General David Rodriguez who has led the U.S. mission there for 15 months, agencies reported. Speaking at the U.S. base in Bagram on April 10, Schloesser vowed to spare no effort in bringing stability to Afghanistan. "Today we pledge to work for the progress and prosperity of Afghanistan; we pledge to support Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan security," Schloesser said, adding that the U.S. mission also aims to rebuild and develop Afghanistan's infrastructure. AT

German humanitarian organization Kinderberg International said on April 10 that two of its workers are missing in Afghanistan, AFP reported. Abdul Rab, an Afghan doctor, and his driver, Abdul Hafiz, were driving from Kabul to Kunduz in the far north on April 8, but never reached their destination, the organization said in a statement. Their empty car was found by the Afghan authorities in Chare-i-Kar, north of Kabul. "We don't know if they have been kidnapped," said Johanna Kutter, a spokesperson for the organization, which specializes in health care projects for women and children. Rab has been working for humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan for more than ten years. AT

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has said he will resign within months, but has not confirmed speculation that he may run for president in Afghanistan next year, Reuters reported on April 10. Khalilzad, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq before taking up the UN post, said that he intends to begin working in the private sector after leaving the diplomatic service. In comments broadcast by the Ariana network, Khalilzad said: "I have said earlier that I'm not a candidate for any position in Afghanistan, but I am at the service of the Afghan people." "The Independent" newspaper reported that Khalilzad's supporters in Afghanistan have been negotiating with leaders of several factions in a bid to offer the diplomat as a candidate who can bring the divided country together. AT

President George W. Bush said in Washington on April 10 that Iran and Al-Qaeda pose the "two greatest threats to America," and told Iran to stop meddling in Iraq, agencies reported. In a speech at the White House, Bush said Iran should make the right choice and stop arming and funding "illegal militant groups...terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning [Iraqis] against Iran," Reuters reported. He warned that the United States "will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners." The same day, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad issued warnings of his own, saying that Iran has a mission to wipe out "the corrupt powers" dominating the world, agencies reported. Ahmadinejad met later that day in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who was visiting Iran in his role as the current head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Ahmadinejad said that the time has arrived for Israel and its allies' "weakness and collapse," and that these states will be unable to save themselves, Fars and IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad renewed his calls for a Palestinian referendum on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the goal of ending what he called "the ugliest crimes" committed by Israel, Fars reported. VS

Hossein Faqihian, a deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, has announced that Iran will open a plant in Ardakan, central Iran, to produce uranium ore concentrate or yellowcake, used to make nuclear fuel, agencies reported on April 10. The processing plant is due to open in less than a year, AP reported. After uranium ore is turned into yellowcake, the concentrate will be converted into uranium hexafluoride, or UF6 gas, at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, then fed into centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear plant and enriched to become civilian nuclear fuel. Western powers are concerned that Iran will one day enrich uranium gas to the levels needed to produce nuclear weapons. Faqihian said the Ardakan plant will produce 70 tons of yellowcake a year, the amount he said is required for Iran's nuclear program. He said the Isfahan plant has produced some 360 tons of UF6 gas, now being stored at the plant. He added that Iran is preparing a map of its uranium ore reserves, mostly in central Iran, to facilitate future exploitation, AP reported. VS

Hadi Qabel, a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, began serving a jail sentence on April 8 on a number of charges of antigovernment activity, Radio Farda reported on April 10, quoting Qabel's relatives and Iranian agency reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2007). Qabel's brother, Ahmad Qabel, said he is being kept in an ordinary prison in Qom and is taking medication for heart problems. Qabel received a 40-month prison sentence for charges including threatening national security, making false allegations "to incite public opinion," insulting clergy and state officials, and engaging in antigovernment propaganda, Radio Farda reported. He was convicted by the special court for the clergy in Qom, and a higher court in Tehran backed the convictions. Qabel was summoned to the clerical court in Qom on April 8 and taken directly to the Langarud prison, his son Ruhollah Qabel told ISNA on April 9. Qabel has been an outspoken critic of Iran's radical right-wing; he warned during the 2005 presidential elections that "those who whip [offenders] in public squares are trying to have Ahmadinejad elected president," referring to the current president's arch-conservative supporters. VS

Thousands of workers of the Haft Tapeh sugar company in the southwestern province of Khuzestan went on strike on April 8, demanding their wages for March and bonuses apparently owed them for previous months, Radio Farda reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12, 2008). The workers have now gone on strike 13 times in the past two years, Radio Farda observed. They also called for the reopening of a cafeteria for workers that was closed about a year ago, stating that Iran's labor laws require employers to provide one meal a day for their workers. One of the strikers, called Kurosh, told Radio Farda that some 3,000-3,500 workers were participating in the strike on April 8, and claimed that the firm failed to honor promises made to striking workers last March. He blamed government policy for the state-sector company's financial problems. Kurosh said that not only has the government failed to help Haft Tapeh financially, but also that Tehran has allowed increasing sugar imports to ruin the domestic sugar industry. He said the government has lowered tariffs on sugar imports and eased the import ventures of a "sugar mafia" which he said is made up of government officials, causing a "crisis for factories like Haft Tapeh, which cannot even pay...wages and benefits." Radio Farda also quoted a former agriculture minister, Abbas Ali Zali, as telling the "Etemad" newspaper in early March that the import policies of President Ahmadinejad's government have led to the closure of 39 sugar plants or refineries. VS

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Al-Arabiyah television in an April 10 interview that the United States should abide by an agreed-upon pullout schedule, and not leave troops in Iraq. "Prime Minister [Nuri] al-Maliki voiced this demand during his phone conversation with [U.S.] President George [W.] Bush. He stressed the importance of abiding by these dates, and President Bush said that these dates would be observed." Asked who will maintain security after the redeployment of five U.S. brigades, al-Dabbagh said: "Regardless of the security situation, this [redeployment] should be respected, since it is a political message which also bolsters the Iraqi [side] and enables it to bear full responsibility and be ready. The Iraqis should bear responsibility for security, and we do not want others to bear it." Regarding the ongoing negotiations over the status of an agreement between the two countries, al-Dabbagh said: "There are ongoing negotiations between the Iraqi and U.S. governments about the agreement of friendship and cooperation, which is still in its initial stages." KR

The official spokesman for the Supreme Judicial Council, Abd al-Sattar al-Bayraqdar, announced on April 10 that 28,242 detainees have been released from Iraqi custody under the General Amnesty Law, the Aswat Al-Iraq website reported. The figure represents those released between the end of February and April 10. Based on press reports from last week, it appears the number of detainees released between April 3 and April 10 totals 1,646. The U.S. military estimates that there are 23,000 detainees in U.S. custody, including 500 minors and 240 people carrying passports from neighboring Arab states. KR

Ibrahim al-Shammari, a spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, told Al-Jazeera television in an interview aired on April 9 that the so-called Iraqi resistance is not falling apart, but has instead changed its tactics. "The resistance has brought the pace of its military operations under control [and is] no longer dealing with matters on the spur of the moment or with logic based on spontaneity," he claimed. "It has started to weigh matters carefully. It has started to economize its resources." Al-Shammari denied suggestions that the militant forces have been weakened, but said they have had to change their focus to deal with "new facts in Iraq" such as the appearance of awakening councils, formed by Sunni Arab tribesmen to fight Al-Qaeda last year. "The resistance has started to deal with the Sunni community in a mutually beneficial and positive way. Thus, we started to purge the Sunni community of what has afflicted it, with an operation of purification, to purge this community which has been poisoned by the awakening issue," Al-Shammari said. He categorized the awakening councils into five groups, saying some are longtime U.S. allies, others want jobs after lengthy unemployment, others want to resist the militias (although he did not specify which militias), while some seek prominence and financial gain. Al-Shammari contended that following the "purification process," many of those who joined awakening councils have realized that their behavior threatened the Sunni resistance movement. He argued that the rise of awakening councils is a natural reaction to Al-Qaeda, and implied that Sunni Arabs who joined the councils would be forgiven for their alleged indiscretion. KR

Ibrahim al-Shammari hinted in his interview with Al-Jazeera that the Sunni Arab resistance might be able to work with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, but only if the cleric stops targeting of Sunnis. Al-Shammari did not appear convinced that al-Sadr is truly opposed to Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, and noted that al-Sadr supported al-Maliki and his administration for a long time. Al-Shammari appeared to lay down conditions for creating an alliance with al-Sadr against U.S. and Iraqi forces, saying: "If Muqtada al-Sadr wants to be against the Americans, he must stop his militias' sectarian killing and displacement, restore rights to owners [displaced from their homes], and restore the mosques that were usurped and violated" by al-Sadr's militia. "If they restore the rights of the Sunnis, we might discuss the matter," he said. Al-Shammari said Sunni Arab militants do not recognize the Iraqi government "because it represents a U.S. occupation in appearance and an Iranian occupation in substance." Asked about negotiations with the United States, he said: "The Americans have not been serious about negotiations," and called the United States "arrogant" in its policies. Al-Shammari said neighboring Sunni Arab states have become increasingly supportive of the Iraqi Sunni resistance, and named Egypt as one such state. "Official visits will be paid to certain states that extended invitations to the resistance's Political Council," al-Shammari said, in a reference to the Political Council of Iraqi Resistance, which represents the leadership of several resistance groups. KR

President George W. Bush reiterated his commitment to Iraq in an April 10 address, saying a stable, successful, independent Iraq is in the strategic interests of the United States and the world. Bush called on Arab states to do more to help Iraq, and said he has directed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, the commander of the Multinational Force - Iraq, to meet with Saudi leaders in the coming days. In addition, senior U.S. diplomats have been directed to meet with leaders in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Egypt to encourage them to increase their support and diplomatic representation in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will follow up when she attends a conference of Iraq's neighbors in Kuwait on April 22, Bush said. KR

President Bush also addressed Iran's role in Iraq, saying that Iran "can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic, and cultural and religious ties. Or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups, which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran. If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. [If] Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests, and our troops, and our Iraqi partners." Bush called on the public to support U.S. efforts in Iraq, saying the cost of the war remains far lower than any U.S. defense budget during the Cold War, standing at just 4 percent of GDP. "If we succeed in Iraq after all that Al-Qaeda and Iran have invested there, it would be a historic blow to the global terrorist movement and a severe setback for Iran.... It would give America a new partner with a growing economy and a democratic political system in which Sunnis and Shi'a and Kurds all work together for the good of their country," Bush said. KR