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(Un)Civil Societies Report: February 13, 2002

13 February 2002, Volume 3, Number 7
PRIVATERRA: A NEW COALITION OF COMPUTER SPECIALISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS. On 30 January, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) launched Privaterra to provide human rights workers with technology and training on how to secure information and communications. A protected clearinghouse of information and resources on privacy and security for human rights organizations is being organized. Privaterra is a volunteer-based organization with offices in the U.S. and Canada. CPSR is a public-interest alliance of computer scientists and others concerned with the impact of computer technology on society and providing the public and policymakers with informed assessments on this key issue. Contact Robert Guerra, director, or see or see (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, 30 January)

RELIGIOUS LEADERS CONDEMN INCIDENTS. Roman Catholic and Islamic religious leaders in Shkoder have condemned what they called a recent series of incidents aimed at poisoning relations between their respective religious communities, dpa reported on 12 February. In one incident, anti-Islamic leaflets were distributed. In the most recent development, unknown persons threw a grenade at a monument to Father Gjergj Fishta, Albania's most prominent Roman Catholic poet. Luciano Agostini, who is a leader of Shkoder's Roman Catholic community, said, "We condemn these acts and appeal to all believers to be vigilant against them." Northern Albania is the main center of the Roman Catholic minority. Relations between Catholics and the Muslim community have traditionally been good. Many more Roman Catholic Albanians can be found in Kosova, Croatia, and further afield, where they are known for their entrepreneurship. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

COMMISSION ENDORSES PRESIDENT'S PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. The Armenian parliamentary commission for constitutional reform on 8 February approved the amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian that envisage a semi-presidential form of government, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. At the same time, the commission rejected alternative proposals drafted by the opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

MURDERED PREMIER SUSPECTED OF HAVING RESORTED TO TORTURE. Armenia's prosecutor-general, Aram Tamazian, has ordered an inquiry into allegations that former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, one of eight victims of the October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings, participated in the beating and torture of Interior Ministry officers in 1995, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian was defense minister at the time. The inquiry into Sargsian's role is part of a broader investigation into former Armenian prisons head Mushegh Saghatelian, who was arrested last year on a variety of charges including human rights violations and the arrest and torture in June 1995 of former Interior Ministry officials suspected of plotting to overthrow then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Saghatelian has accused current President Robert Kocharian of masterminding the 1999 parliament killings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

PARTIES INSIST ON DEATH PENALTY FOR PARLIAMENT GUNMEN. Leading Armenian political parties continue to argue that the five gunmen who murdered eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999 be sentenced to death, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 February. The Armenian government undertook to abolish the death penalty when the country was accepted as a full member of the Council of Europe in January 2001, but has not yet done so, and the Constitutional Court is examining whether abolition is compatible with the clause in the constitution allowing the death penalty for "exceptionally grave crimes." Lawmakers argue that the Council of Europe should "make an exception" in the case of the five gunmen, but Hovannes Hovannisian, who heads the Armenian delegation to the Council of Europe, has said he thinks that is highly improbable. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

OPPOSITION PARTY MEMBER DIES IN CUSTODY. Fazail Tagiev, who headed the Sumgait branch of the opposition Adalet Party, died in a Justice Ministry hospital on 9 February, Turan reported. Tagiev, who was 60 and suffered from diabetes and a heart condition, was taken into detention together with several other Adalet members in September after staging an unsanctioned demonstration in Baku. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

OPPOSITION PARTY STAGES NEW PROTEST. Members of the Musavat Party staged a further picket on 5 February outside the Ministry for Economic Development in Baku to protest the ministry's refusal to extend the lease on the building that houses Musavat's headquarters, Turan reported. The ministry claims that the building is a registered architectural monument. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

LEGISLATURE SAID TO MASSIVELY RUBBERSTAMP PRESIDENTIAL BILLS. Ivan Pashkevich, a member of the Chamber of Representatives, told an international conference in Minsk on 8 February that one in two bills passed by the chamber contravenes the constitution, Belapan reported. Pashkevich noted that making laws is almost the sole privilege of the Presidential Bill Drafting Center which, according to Pashkevich, produces draft laws on a "mass scale." He divulged that lawmakers are neither familiar with nor understand some 95 percent of the bills passed by the chamber because they do not have the time to read them. "Even if [the legislature] postpones some bills, they are returned [to the chamber] with manic persistence and passed on the third or fourth try," Pashkevich added. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

PRISON PICKETED IN SUPPORT OF OPPOSITION ACTIVIST. Some 50 activists of the United Civic Party on 11 February picketed a prison in Minsk to express solidarity with opposition lawmaker and businessman Andrey Klimau, who that day completed the fourth year of his six-year sentence, Belapan reported. Klimau, who owned a construction firm before his arrest, was convicted of "large-scale embezzlement" and forgery. However, opposition and human rights organizations in Belarus and abroad link his imprisonment to his loyalty to the Supreme Soviet, the parliament outlawed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996, and his active role in the Supreme Soviet's attempts to impeach the Belarusian president. Under Belarus's criminal code, Klimau's imprisonment may now be commuted to corrective labor. Klimau's mother, who participated in the picket, told the agency that she has not appealed to the authorities to change her son's punishment. "I consider Belarus a large prison, in which everything depends on the prison's chief [Lukashenka], but I will never appeal to him," she said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

OPPOSITION ACTIVIST'S MOTHER APPEALS FOR HELP IN FINDING SON. Nina Korban -- the mother of Yury Korban, who is the head of the Vitsebsk-based opposition youth center Kontur -- has appealed to Belarusian and international human rights organizations for help in finding her missing son, Belapan reported on 11 February. Nina Korban told the agency that her son left the house on 19 January and she has not seen him since. He telephoned her a few times in subsequent days, the last time on 23 January when he asked her to bring $20,000 to a location in Minsk. She arrived at that location with some money, but no one met her. During the last telephone conversation, her son told her that she would never see him again. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

EX-PRESIDENT: 'I'M A DEFENDANT, NOT AN INFORMER.' Biljana Plavsic told "Vesti" on 9 February that she has no intention of testifying against Milosevic or former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic in The Hague, as some press reports have suggested. She dismissed those reports outright, stressing that she has enough to do in preparing her own defense. Plavsic suggested that she would not be in the dock herself if she had important incriminating evidence against others. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

CONTROVERSY OVER AMENDMENTS TO BOSNIAN SERB CONSTITUTION. Speaking in Bijeljina on 9 February, Dragan Kalinic, who is speaker of the Republika Srpska parliament and head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), said that he is for a "healthy compromise" with parties from the mainly Croat and Muslim federation about changes to the two entities' constitutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added, however, that "there are certain limits and a minimum of Serbian interests" that he must respect in his ongoing talks with political leaders from the federation. In Sarajevo, representatives of four leading NGOs in the federation said that they do not consider that the proposed amendments to the Bosnian Serb Constitution go far enough to meet the recent ruling by the Bosnian Constitutional Court on equality between Muslims, Serbs, and Croats throughout the country. Speaking in Zvornik the next day, Kalinic said that two-thirds of the deputies to the Bosnian Serb parliament will have to approve any constitutional changes. He stressed that the size of the respective ethnic groups according to the 1991 census "is unacceptable to the Serbs" as a basis for assigning cabinet posts. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

PRESIDENT: BOSNIAN ROLE ONLY ON OFFICIAL BASIS. In a statement released by his office in Zagreb on 11 February, President Stipe Mesic said he is willing to help improve the position of Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina but only on the basis of governmental institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He ruled out working through unofficial channels, as was the practice during the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman. Mesic called for the return of refugees and for the complete equality of all three peoples in the neighboring country. He was replying to an earlier letter from Herzegovinian leader Ante Jelavic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

COURT JAILS FORMER SECRET POLICE MEMBERS. A Prague court sentenced two former members of the communist secret police to three years in jail on 11 February for having tortured antiregime dissidents in order to force them to flee Czechoslovakia, CTK and Reuters reported. Zbynek Dudek and Jiri Simak were acting on orders received within the "Asanace" campaign. Both the accused and the prosecution, which is seeking a more severe punishment, said they are appealing the sentence. The trial of five former StB officials accused of masterminding the campaign, including former Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina, was expected to return with a verdict on 12 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

ROMA WANT GOVERNMENT'S ROMANY COUNCIL ABOLISHED. Representatives of Romany organizations in the Czech Republic want the governmental Council for Romany Affairs abolished, Romany Civic Association (ROI) Chairman Stefan Licartovsky told CTK on 11 February. Licartovsky said the Romany organizations want the council replaced by a body that will genuinely represent Romany interests. On 10 February, the ROI said the Romany organizations disagree with the lineup of the council and that the government's 8 February appointments to that body had disregarded all but one of the Romany proposals. Licartovsky said the Romany organizations want to meet Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky, and that if the situation is not resolved soon they are prepared to organize demonstrations outside the government's office. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

PARLIAMENT APPROVES FREE ACCESS TO STB FILES. The Chamber of Deputies approved a law on 8 February that will allow adult citizens access to any files of the former communist secret police, upon written request, CTK and international agencies reported. Files of foreign nationals, as well as files whose content could endanger state security or human life, will remain classified. The vote was 102 in favor and 53 against. The ruling Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) vote was split, with party Chairman Vladimir Spidla voting against and Prime Minister Milos Zeman absent when the vote was taken. While CSSD Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky interpreted the law as giving access only to those on whom files were kept by the StB, Civic Democratic Party parliamentary Deputy Marek Benda said the law allows free access to the files to any person aged 18 and over. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

GOVERNMENT RAISES WAGES IN STATE SECTOR. The government on 11 February decided to raise wages by 11 percent in the state sector and by 18 percent for those employed in the health system, CTK reported. The increase goes into effect on 1 April. The government also decided to add 1,000 crowns ($27.50) to the monthly wage of priests. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

DISPLACED PERSONS END PROTEST PICKET. Following a meeting with UN special representative for the Abkhaz conflict Dieter Boden, Georgian displaced persons ended on 9 February the protest they began on 19 January at the bridge over the Inguri River that links Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The protesters were demanding that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis either be withdrawn or be empowered to protect the local Georgian population more effectively. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

POWER SECTOR WORKERS LAUNCH STRIKE. Employees of a hydroelectric power station in western Georgia began a strike on 5 February to protest nonpayment of their wages over several months amounting to some 500,000 laris, Caucasus Press reported. They are demanding that a minimum of two months' back wages be paid immediately. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

PRESIDENT TO MEDIATE BETWEEN POLITICAL PARTIES. The opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) on 8 February wrote to President Ferenc Madl asking him to act as mediator between parliamentary parties on the issues of the Status Law and EU accession, in view of the "uncivilized tone used in the election campaign." SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Kuncze recalled that governing party deputies had called the opposition "traitors," and several people also heard Prime Minister Viktor Orban utter the word in parliament. Kuncze said it is vital that Orban apologize to the opposition parties for his remarks. Hungarian radio reported that Madl said last week during his visit to Kyiv that he will try to mediate between the leaders of the parliamentary parties because the Status Law and EU accession have become matters of dispute and it is "regrettable that the tone of the campaign has become uncivilized." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

FIDESZ DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OFFERS SCATHING APOLOGY TO 'TRAITORS.' Laszlo Kover on 8 February told an election forum in the Hungarian city of Nagykanizsa that he apologizes to those Socialist Party politicians whom he called traitors in parliament on 5 February, as "traitors can only be those who have a country." Kover said opposition politicians "hate the country in which they live," and, with their continued "mud slinging," want "a general sense of nausea to bury the parliamentary elections." Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs "is Goebbels' best disciple" because he is trying to mislead the public with his "countless reiterated lies," Kover added. Regarding the Socialists, he said, "if the past cannot be abolished for good, let us at least abolish them from the future." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

PRIME MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE SIGNS PROMISE TO SUPPORT ROMA. On 11 February, the opposition Socialist Party's candidate for prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, signed in the presence of 33 Romany groups a personal pledge to find a solution to major problems affecting Hungary's Romany minority. In outlining his party's Romany policy, Medgyessy said the educational problems of Roma should not be addressed by building new boarding schools, as the top priority is to eliminate school segregation. He said the Socialists' goal is to work out an antipoverty program that can offer a solution to both Roma and non-Roma. Medgyessy also said that his party would make incitement against a community and scare-mongering punishable by law. The Romany organization Lungo Drom, which has signed an election agreement with FIDESZ, was not invited to the signing ceremony. Medgyessy said, however, that the group would not be at a disadvantage if the Socialists win the elections. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

PRESIDENT REJECTS CALLS FOR PARLIAMENTARY REPUBLIC... Addressing a 6 February meeting of editors of pro-government media outlets, President Nursultan Nazarbaev rejected calls by the opposition Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan for the abolition of the presidency, Interfax reported. At that meeting, Nazarbaev also said he has given the new government headed by Imangali Tasmagambetov a free hand for the next two years to implement its programs, in particular education reform and the introduction of mandatory medical insurance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

...AS KAZAKH COMMUNIST LEADER ACCUSES HIM OF TARGETING NEW OPPOSITION MOVEMENT. All the reprisals directed against the founders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) were initiated personally by President Nazarbaev, Communist Party of Kazakhstan First Secretary Serikbolsyin Abdildin told journalists at a press conference in Almaty on 6 February, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Abdildin appealed to Nazarbaev to embark on a "constructive dialogue" with the opposition. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

WORKERS APPEAL TO NEW PRIME MINISTER TO INCREASE PENSIONS. Leading members of the Almaty Workers Movement told a press conference in the former capital on 6 February that they have written to new Prime Minister Tasmagambetov asking him to raise pensions by 25 percent and to lower the retirement age to 60 for men and 55 for women, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. They also called for more effective measures to combat crime and corruption. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

PRESIDENT WARNS BUSINESSMEN TO STEER CLEAR OF POLITICS. Nursultan Nazarbaev has issued a clear warning to entrepreneurs and bankers sympathetic to the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan "not to meddle in politics," Interfax reported on 5 February. He suggested they could better serve their country "by opening new enterprises, creating jobs," and raising wages. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

SLAVS WANT RUSSIAN DESIGNATED AS STATE LANGUAGE. Organizations representing the Russian and other Slavic communities in Kazakhstan have begun lobbying for Russian to be designated a state language, Interfax quoted Russkii obozrevatel research center head Fedor Miroglov as telling journalists in Almaty on 5 February. Miroglov expressed "outrage" that school programs in Russian language and literature are being reduced in some regions of Kazakhstan, and condemned as "an example of double standards" the state language program that foresees Kazakh becoming the primary language of communication over the next decade. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG CONDEMNS RESPONSE TO HUNGER STRIKER'S DEATH... On 7 February the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture issued a statement condemning the Kyrgyz authorities' harassment of the relatives of Sherali Nazarkulov, who died the previous day after a hunger strike to protest the arrest of Kyrgyz parliament Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The statement noted that Nazarkulov's wife and fellow human rights activists were not allowed to claim his body for burial or to attend the autopsy, and that medical personnel at the hospital where he died were pressured to record the cause of death as a stroke, not the direct result of his hunger strike. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

...AS PARLIAMENTARIANS DEMAND THAT PRESIDENT RESIGN. Thirteen parliament deputies issued a statement on 7 February blaming Nazarkulov's death on President Askar Akaev's failure to respond to either domestic or international appeals on Beknazarov's behalf, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They argued that by ignoring the upsurge of protest over Beknazarov's arrest and departing on vacation, Akaev has forfeited the "moral right" to remain president, and should therefore resign. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

PETITIONS IN SUPPORT OF ARRESTED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY STOLEN. Lists containing some 17,601 signatures to a petition calling for the release of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov were stolen from a car en route from Djalalabad to Bishkek on 5 February, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Police had stopped the car to lecture the driver on road safety. Also on 5 February, up to 50 of the estimated 400 people on hunger strike to demand Beknazarov's release ended their protest. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

INTERNATIONALS DEFEND ANTI-INTERNATIONAL PROTESTERS. UN police officials said in Prishtina on 10 February that they will not tolerate attempts by unnamed Kosovars to interfere with protests against the recent arrest of three former ethnic Albanian guerrillas, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Many Kosovars regard the protests as harmful to relations between the province's ethnic Albanian majority and representatives of the international community. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

WORLD BANK LOAN FOR SCHOOL RENOVATION? Education Minister Algirdas Monkevicius held talks in Vilnius on 11 February with the World Bank's representative for education, Ernesto Cuadro, on the ministry's program for the reorganization and renovation of Lithuanian educational institutions, BNS reported. Lithuania hopes to receive a 100 million litas ($39.5 million) loan from the bank for the program, which will be carried out in 2002-5. Cuadro said World Bank managers are happy with the project to renovate school buildings, improve school environments, prepare courses for teachers and headmasters, and provide transportation for schoolchildren. World Bank officials will spend 10 days in Vilnius to clear up the remaining details regarding the administration of the project in local authorities and participation of school communities. The loan agreement is expected to be signed in May. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

BOOBY TRAP KILLS MAN. A bobby-trap bomb in a house in the troubled Skopje suburb of Aracinovo killed Aco Stojanovski and wounded a second man on 10 February. AP called the incident the most serious in Macedonia in weeks. A police spokesman told the news agency that the authorities believe that Stojanovski's brother, who works for the security forces, was the intended target of the blast. No one has claimed responsibility. In 2001, Aracinovo was a stronghold of the ethnic Albanian rebels. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

GAGAUZ-YERI ASSEMBLY APPROVES REFERENDUM ON DISMISSING GOVERNOR. The Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly on 8 February approved holding a referendum on 24 February on dismissing the region's governor, Dumitru Croitor, Infotag reported. The vote was 24 in favor and 12 against. Infotag said the decision infringes on current legislation, which stipulates that at least 30 days must pass after the plebiscite's approval before it can be held. Opponents of the referendum say its partisans are manipulated from Chisinau and seek to replace the elected Executive Committee -- the autonomous region's government -- with Communists in order to hold early local elections in Gagauz-Yeri on 7 April. The same day, the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed "concern" that the tensions in the region could lead to instability and encroach on the autonomous status of the Turkish-speaking region's population. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

PRESIDENT CALLS ON GAGAUZ POPULATION TO DISMISS GOVERNOR. President Vladimir Voronin appealed to the inhabitants of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region on 11 February to participate in the 24 February referendum and vote to dismiss Governor Dumitru Croitor, Infotag reported. Voronin accused Croitor of being "preoccupied with personal problems," rather than with those of the region and said Popular Assembly Chairman Mihail Kendigelean is collaborating with the Tiraspol separatists. Croitor's supporters said the same day that the resolution passed by the assembly on the referendum is null and void, because it was supported by 21 deputies, two short of the required two-thirds majority. Croitor said in response to Voronin's appeal that the call can "only lead to further destabilization" and is "unconstitutional." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

COMPENSATION FOR HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS, KIN. Romania is to pay compensation to those who were deported to ghettoes and concentration camps during World War II and to those who were forced to work in labor camps, Mediafax reported on 8 February. According to norms approved by the government, those deported, as well as survivors of the 1941 Iasi "Death Trains," will be entitled to a compensation of 300,000 lei ($9.34) for each year spent in deportation and internment. Those who had to perform forced labor and relatives of those who perished in the camps are entitled to half that sum. Spouses are also entitled to the halved-compensation if they never remarried. Observers emphasize that the regulation requires that those entitled to compensation must produce documentation proving their internment, which in most cases is impossible to provide, and that only a handful of survivors are still alive. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

PREMIER EXPLAINS INTENDED CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 8 February that amending the constitutional prerogatives of the country's president should not be transformed into a "personalized debate," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the amendment would not be enforced in the next presidential elections. Nastase said that an amendment is warranted by the fact that although Romania has a parliamentary system, the country's president is elected by popular vote, as in presidential systems. He also said the prerogatives of Romania's two chambers of the parliament should be redefined, with each chamber having its own specific and separate prerogatives. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

SUPREME COURT CONTESTS BASIS FOR PASKO CONVICTION... On 12 February, the military branch of the Russian Supreme Court ruled as "invalid" one of the Defense Ministry acts used to convict journalist Grigorii Pasko. The 1996 invalidated act provided a list of confidential information relating to armed forces. The court ruled that the act was passed in violation of federal law. Pasko was convicted in December of collecting classified information about the Russian navy with the intention of passing it on to Japanese media and sentenced to four years in prison. The Defense Ministry can appeal the ruling within 10 days. Pasko's lawyers said a separate complaint appealing his conviction is expected to be heard next month. Pasko insists his conviction is retaliation for reports that revealed environmental abuses by Russia's Pacific Fleet. ("Court Contests Basis for Pasko's Conviction,", 12 February)

...AND SCIENTIST'S ESPIONAGE TRIAL POSTPONED. The Krasnoyarsk Krai court on 6 February postponed the trial of Valentin Danilov, the physicist accused by the Federal Security Service of spying for China, ITAR-TASS reported. The case has been returned to the prosecution for further investigation. According to Danilov's lawyer, Yelena Yevmenova , the court agreed with the prosecution's request that the charges against Danilov should be expanded to include fraud, the agency reported. Danilov was arrested 18 months ago and is one of several journalists and scientists charged over the past two years with disclosing state secrets, while the accused maintain that any information they obtained was from open sources. In each of the cases, the Russian courts have employed the same tactics -- once public outcry reaches a peak, they decide to review the case while the defendant remains in custody. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

PUTIN SLAMS INTERIOR MINISTRY'S FAILURES AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIME... Speaking at an annual Kremlin meeting attended by most of the heads of Russia's security and law-enforcement community, President Vladimir Putin sharply criticized the Interior Ministry (MVD) for its failures to stem crime over the past year, Russian news agencies reported on 11 February. "As killing, kidnapping, and robbery are becoming routine occurrences in our lives, over 7,000 killers wanted by the law remain at large -- as well as hundreds of thousands of other uncaught criminals," Putin said in an opening harangue that lasted for seven minutes before journalists were asked to leave. He claimed that last year the MVD failed to establish the fate of 30,000 missing Russian citizens, and stopped or suspended investigations of 40,000 criminal cases simply because police failed to establish who committed them. As a result, he said he will not support calls to drop the moratorium on the death penalty. "What is the point of making punishment more severe if we cannot provide the inevitability of punishment?" Putin asked. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

...CALLS ON PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE TO TAKE LARGER ROLE... President Putin also said that the Prosecutor-General's Office should play more of a " coordinating and preemptive role in protecting citizen's rights -- especially in the regions," Russian news agencies reported. In a nod toward human rights activists, Putin said that last year the office illegally sanctioned the arrest of 1,500 people and issued warrants for 25,000 searches. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said in his address to the meeting that some 122,000 cases were discovered in which police concealed citizens' reports on crimes, thus stalling investigations. He said such action is patterned after the Soviet era, when the objective of law enforcement was not in protecting citizens, but in lowering crime statistics. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

NEW LAW DOES NOT REDUCE NUMBER OF POLITICAL PARTIES. "Vremya MN" noted on 8 February that the goal of the recently enacted law on political parties, which was to reduce the number of political parties to two or three, "has not survived its encounter with reality." Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 7 February that six parties have been registered so far in accordance with the law, according to ITAR-TASS. These parties, which were registered last year, will have to submit their financial data to tax agencies by 20 March. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

ULTRA-LEFTIST FIGURE HOPES FOR DEPUTY MANDATE, IMMUNITY. National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov has registered as a candidate in State Duma by-elections in a single mandate district in Nizhnii Novgorod, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 February. Limonov will compete along with five other candidates for the seat abandoned by Gennadii Khodyrev when he won gubernatorial elections in that oblast. Limonov currently resides in Lefortovo prison, because he is suspected of organizing an illegal armed formation. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 February that despite his incarceration, Limonov's chances of victory are considered high, as the other candidates are not well-known in the district. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

AUGUST IRKUTSK ELECTION RESULT QUESTIONED. Aleksandr Salii, a Duma deputy (Communist) and chairman of the Commission for the Study of the Use of Election Legislation, called on the Duma's Security Committee to confirm information contained in a 29 January article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" alleging that workers at his commission accepted money to falsify the results of the 2001 gubernatorial elections in Irkutsk Oblast. Incumbent Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin won a second round by less than 2 percent of the vote. Salii suggested that the author of the article had apparently obtained some audiotapes from one of Russia's intelligence services, Interfax reported on 6 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

DUMA REACHES COMPROMISE ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE. The government has reached a compromise with the military on the issue of alternative military service according to which the appropriate bill will be presented to the Duma not by the chief of the General Staff, Anatolii Kvashnin, but by Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok, Ekho Moskvy reported on 8 February. Pochinok's bill allows draftees to perform alternative service near the place of their residence. The bill also clearly defines the economic sectors and professions in which a draftee can opt for alternative service. Finally, the bill postulates that draftees should receive adequate salaries for their service and preserve their rights to be enrolled in higher education institutions while serving. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

RUSSIAN TROOPS UNDERTAKE NEW CHECHEN SEARCH OPERATION. Russian forces surrounded the town of Shali, southeast of Grozny, and for the third consecutive day were checking the identity of the town's inhabitants, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. "Dozens" of people had been detained, according to a local official. On 6 February, Russian Human Rights Commissioner for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov said he has received no confirmation of complaints by the human rights organization Memorial that Russian troops resorted to arbitrary brutality against civilians during a recent search operation in the towns of Novye and Starye Atagi. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

COMMISSION BEGINS INVESTIGATING CHECHEN 'SWEEP.' During a meeting in Grozny on 4 February between members of the Chechen leadership and residents of the villages of Starye and Novye Atagi, agreement was reached on forming a Chechen government commission that on 5 February began investigating complaints that Russian troops engaged in brutality against the civilian population during a search in both villages for Chechen militants that began on 28 January, Chechenpress and Interfax reported. That action reportedly ended late on 5 February, by which time both villages had run out of food supplies and medications. The whereabouts of 24 people, including nine Chechen police officers, detained by Russian troops during the search is still unknown. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

CHECHEN CIVILIANS AGAIN PROTEST SECURITY SWEEP. Some 400 residents of the towns of Starye and Novye Atagi, Shali, and Germenchuk gathered on 9 February outside the republican Prosecutor's Office in Grozny to demand the release of persons detained by Russian troops during search operations in those towns over the past two weeks, AP reported on 10 February. Also on 9 February, FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said Shali was targeted because Chechen fighters have recently been using the town as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks on local officials, Interfax reported. Zdanovich said the Shali search yielded an underground laboratory for the manufacture of bombs and detonators. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES MILITARY STRATEGY. Aslan Maskhadov convened a meeting of the Military Council in southern Chechnya last week to discuss with field commanders his proposed plan of military action for the spring and summer of this year, Chechenpress reported on 8 February. Maskhadov expressed confidence that successful implementation of the measures outlined will result in the withdrawal of all Russian troops from Chechnya by the end of 2002. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER SURVIVES ANOTHER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Ali Alautdinov escaped unscathed on 6 February when his car hit a mine on the outskirts of Grozny, Russian agencies reported. Two of his bodyguards were hospitalized with injuries. It was the second attempt on Alautdinov's life this year. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

DEPUTY WANTS TO POSTPONE CENSUS. State Duma Deputy (Russian Regions) Franis Saifullin said on 9 February that Moscow's plan to divide Tatars into several ethnic groups in the 2002 census is aimed at eliminating the Republic of Tatarstan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 11 February, citing Tatarstan Radio. He said that if federal authorities do not give up on the idea, he will appeal to Tatarstan's legislature to postpone the census in the republic. Saifullin assumes the division of Tatars in the census will likely result in their totaling less than 50 percent of the population in Tatarstan. The Duma will then pass legislation to annul national republics where titular nations constitute less than half of the population, he asserted. Tatars currently make up some 52 percent of Tatarstan's inhabitants. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

ENVOY MEETS WITH COSSACKS. Selected regional and federal government officials met in Nizhnii Novgorod on 8 February with atamans from Cossack communities in the Volga federal district, reported. Presidential envoy to the district Sergei Kirienko -- along with representatives from the Interior, Defense, Emergency Situations, and Agriculture ministries, and others from the Federal Tax Police -- took part in the meeting. Among the topics of discussion were laws regulating government relations with Cossacks. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

MUSLIM RELIGIOUS LEADER SPEAKS OUT AGAINST DRAFT RELIGION LAW. The supreme mufti for Asian Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, has spoken out against a draft law he believes would give the Russian Orthodox religion the legal status of the official state religion, Ekho Moskvy reported on 6 February. Ashirov said such a plan would "lead to discontent among people of other faiths and shatter the Russian state." Unity faction member Aleksandr Chuev recently submitted a draft bill on traditional religious organization that would give the Russian Orthodox Church special privileges. Under the bill, the church would receive access to schools, television airwaves, and exemption from taxes, reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH EMBARKS ON 'UNFRIENDLY' MISSION. Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Igor Vyzhanov said that plans announced by the Roman Catholic Church on 11 February to upgrade its institutions in Russia are viewed as "an unfriendly action as regards the Russian Orthodox Church," reported. According to the decision announced by the Holy See's press secretary, Joaquin Navarro-Vals, the Vatican has set up four Catholic dioceses in Russia in an effort to raise the profile of the church. Vyzhanov said that such a step "does not take into account the Orthodox Church's interests, and make a possible meeting between Patriarch Aleksii II and Pope John Paul II even more remote." According to Vyzhanov, the Vatican is engaging in missionary activities "'among the people of our country, which has never been and will never be Catholic." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

GET THEE TO A 'DATSAN.' A Sunday school for girls has been opened at the Buddhist monastery in Ulan Ude in Buryatia, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 February. Eleven girls ranging from seven to 11 will study the Buryat language, culture, traditions, as well as the ethnography of the Buryats, Mongols, and Tibetans. They will also learn the practice of Buddhist religious rites. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

AUDIT CHAMBER SAYS WORLD BANK ENVIRONMENT LOAN LINED POCKETS, PRODUCED PAPER. Speaking to the State Duma on 6 February, Audit Chamber inspector Tamara Zlotnikova said that a probe she led established that a $55 million loan given to Russia by the World Bank in 1995 to be used for the development of environmental controls was pocketed by officials involved in the project, "Vremya MN" and "Izvestiya" reported. She said that in the seven years since the loan was disbursed, the project's participants have produced nothing aside from "several bags of useless papers." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

RESIDENTS BLOCK RAILWAY LINE IMPORTING NUCLEAR WASTE... About 500 residents of the town of Sosnovoborsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai blocked a railway line along which nuclear waste is being imported on 9 February, Interfax reported, citing Greenpeace Rossiya. According to Greenpeace, 41 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria was transported to the town of Krasnoyarsk 26 along this railway line. The protestors are demanding that the waste be taken back to Bulgaria and that a referendum on making their region free from nuclear waste be held. They submitted more than 40,000 signatures in support of the referendum to the krai's regional election commission on 7 February -- 5,000 more signatures than required by law. A previous attempt to hold a national referendum on the import of nuclear waste and other environmental issues failed when the Central Election Commission said that more than 600,000 of some 2.5 million signatures were invalid. According to the law, 2 million signatures are needed. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

...AS YABLOKO TEAMS UP WITH ECOLOGISTS TO DEVELOP ANTINUCLEAR WASTE REFERENDUM. Yabloko Deputy Chairmen Sergei Mitrokhin and Igor Artemiev announced on 9 February that they have reached agreement with human rights and ecological organizations to work together to call for a national referendum against the import of nuclear waste to Russia, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. Yabloko, along with the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, Socio-Ecological Union, and Greenpeace Rossiya, agreed that such a referendum must be preceded by regional referenda -- especially in localities earmarked to host treatment and storage sites. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

BIG BUSINESS SOMETIMES DIGS INTO DEEP POCKETS -- TO BENEFIT OTHERS. The "Financial Times" reports that several studies indicate that charitable giving by major Russian corporations is on the increase. According to the Moscow office of the Charities Aid Foundation, Russia's major companies now give to charity from $5 million to $20 million per year. While in the early 1990s much early funding went to local administrations to try to prop up municipal resources, now savvy companies often reclassify as philanthropy workers' housing and educational facilities for which they must still pay, the paper reports. "Companies want to improve their stock market price by enhancing their image and reputation with social programs," says Marina Leborakina, from the Institute of Urban Economics, which has published a study on the subject. ("Financial Times," 6 February)

CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS PREPARING ANTI-STATUS LAW BILL. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), a member of the ruling coalition, is preparing a bill aimed at safeguarding Slovak sovereignty and countering "controversial provisions" in the Hungarian Status Law, TASR reported on 8 February, citing KDH Deputy Chairman Vladimir Palko. Palko said the KDH will submit the bill to the parliament "if the government does not approve it, or if it does not prepare measures against the effects of the Status Law." Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, who is also a former KDH chairman, said the KDH wants Slovakia and Hungary to reach an agreement on the law, and that the bill will be submitted only if such an agreement fails to materialize. The Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" wrote on 11 February that the bill stipulates that Hungarian minority organizations in Slovakia that issue Hungarian ID cards will be disbanded and their assets will be confiscated. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

SLOVAK ROMANY ORGANIZATION LAUNCHES COMPLAINT WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. The Council of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Romany Parliament in Slovakia said on 9 February that it has filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court about violations of Roma's right to be educated their native language, CTK reported. The council said that the recent amendment to the Education Law approved by the parliament puts the Romany minority at a disadvantage compared with the right of other minorities to be educated in their mother tongues. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

EX-DICTATOR'S TRIAL OPENS IN THE HAGUE... The trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic opened in The Hague on 12 February, international media reported. He faces 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and violation of the laws and customs of war. The case is contained in three indictments, one each for Kosova, Croatia, and Bosnia. The prosecution opened the trial by describing one incident in which one family was burned alive in their home, with the screams of a baby audible for two hours after Serbian forces set the fire. Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte called Milosevic's crimes "the worst known to humankind." She added that some incidents revealed a "medieval savagery and calculated cruelty." Del Ponte told Rome's "La Repubblica" on 11 February that she is sure that he will be convicted on all three indictments. The trial is expected to last about two years. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

...TRIAL HAILED AS A MILESTONE... The Milosevic trial is considered the most important international war crimes trial since those in Germany and Japan after the end of World War II, the BBC reported on 12 February. His extradition by the Serbian government in 2001 put an end to some fears that the tribunal would never be able to try any major war criminal. Many more remain at large, however, including former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. "The Independent" wrote on 12 February that some observers have doubts as to how well the prosecution has prepared its case. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted that the lack of precedent makes for a legal minefield, especially as Milosevic refuses to recognize the tribunal's authority. His legal advisers say he will nonetheless try to gain maximum publicity from the trial. He will seek to prove his claims that NATO, the U.S., many Western leaders -- including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- are themselves war criminals. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

DEL PONTE STRESSES SERBIAN EX-DICTATOR'S RESPONSIBILITY. Del Ponte told "La Repubblica" on 11 February that Milosevic is on trial but that Serbia and Serbian history are not. She also noted, however, that Milosevic stood at the head of a "criminal enterprise" that unleashed war, death, and suffering over a period of several years. Speaking in The Hague on 12 February, Del Ponte said: "An excellent tactician, a mediocre strategist, Milosevic did nothing but pursue his ambition at the cost of unspeakable suffering inflicted on those who opposed him or represented a threat [to] his personal strategy of power." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

WILL TRIAL LEAD TO SOUL-SEARCHING IN SERBIA? Vienna's "Die Presse" noted on 11 February that efforts in Serbia to come to terms with the recent past are limited chiefly to a small number of intellectuals and artists. They complain that the current authorities have done little or nothing to help. Most Serbs still believe that Milosevic's wars were essentially defensive in nature and that the tribunal is an anti-Serbian instrument of Western policy, U.S. policy in particular. CNN on 12 February quoted a recent poll suggesting that most Serbs think he should be on trial but for crimes against his own people. Only one-third of the respondents said he is guilty of war crimes. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

PRIME MINISTER VOWS INDICTED MEN WILL GO TO THE HAGUE. Echoing other statements he has made in recent weeks, Zoran Djindjic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 10 February that he expects that four former top aides to Slobodan Milosevic will soon find themselves in The Hague. The prime minister said that only "technical questions" are holding up the departure of the four indicted men. Djindjic added, however, that one of the men, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, enjoys "immunity" by virtue of his office. In related news, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said that indicted Yugoslav citizens must go to The Hague. He stressed that those individuals who "bloodied their hands in the name of the Serbian cause must answer before The Hague tribunal, and before the people and history." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

OFFICIAL PROPOSES UPGRADING STATUS OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE. Russian should be granted the status of an official language in Tajikistan in acknowledgement of its role in facilitating communication between the various peoples of Central Asia, presidential administration official Gayur Kakharov told ITAR-TASS on 9 February. He said doing so would not in any way infringe on the status of the Tajik language. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

SUPREME COURT REJECTS MELNYCHENKO'S ELECTION BID... The Supreme Court on 8 February upheld the decision of the Central Election Commission denying the registration of former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, who has been granted asylum in the United States, as a candidate on the Socialist Party list in the upcoming parliamentary election, Interfax reported. The court said the information Melnychenko supplied about his place of residence in the past five years is "essentially unreliable." Meanwhile, earlier this month the commission accepted a parliamentary bid by former Ukrainian banker Viktor Zherdytskyy, who has been in a German jail since 2000 awaiting trial for allegedly embezzling several hundred thousand dollars intended to assist Ukrainian victims of World War II. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

...WHILE PROSECUTOR DISMISSES U.S. EXAMINATION OF MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES... Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets on 8 February said the results of the recent U.S. examination of Melnychenko's recordings, which provoked Ukraine's "tape scandal" in 2000, "have no legal force for the Ukrainian investigation," Interfax reported. Bahanets noted that, according to Ukrainian legislation, such an examination may be made only by "a competent expert with an appropriate license." Lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr said on RFE/RL on 7 February that Bruce Koenig, a veteran FBI expert on audio and video recordings, examined samples of Melnychenko's recordings and concluded that they are authentic and unaltered. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February)

...AS DOES PRESIDENTIAL OFFICIAL. "It is a subsequent slip of paper that does not mean anything for Ukraine or the Ukrainian judiciary system," presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn said on ICTV Television on 11 February, referring to the recent U.S. expert conclusion that Melnychenko's secret recordings are genuine. Lytvyn added that the publicized conclusion is a campaign move by "those politicians who may be seen as outsiders in the election race." He did not disclose which politicians he had in mind. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko commented on 12 February that the U.S. examination of Melnychenko's tapes is "a step toward the truth." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

ELECTION BID OF WOMEN'S PARTY OF UKRAINE REJECTED. The Central Election Commission on 11 February annulled its previous decision to register a list of candidates of the Women of Ukraine (Zhinky Ukrayiny) party running in the 31 March parliamentary election in the countrywide multiseat constituency, Interfax reported. The commission's decision followed a ruling by a district court in Kyiv saying that the resolutions of the party's congress that proposed party-list candidates for the election were illegal. In addition, the court said the party has not paid an election security deposit of some $48,000, as required by the election law. Another group that registered its candidates and is campaigning with a gender platform in the current election is Women for the Future (Zhinky za maybutne) party. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

IRAN OFFERS SPECIAL TRAVEL CONCESSIONS TO AZERBAIJAN EXCLAVE. The Iranian Consulate in Nakhichevan has begun to issue special "regional 32-page passports" to local Azerbaijanis wishing to travel regularly to Iran for business purposes, Turan reported on 5 February, quoting the independent daily "Azadlyq." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February)

GEORGIA WELCOMES RUSSIAN OFFER TO REPATRIATE CHECHEN REFUGEES. Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze on 6 February expressed approval of the Russian government's decision to assist Chechen refugees currently in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to return home and guarantee their security in Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. A team of experts from Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry, Interior Ministry, and Federal Border Service is to travel to Georgia next week to coordinate with the Georgian side the voluntary repatriation of those Chechens willing to leave Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 6 February, spokesman Lechi Gezidov said the Chechen government is ready to house the returnees either in temporary camps or with local residents. The Chechen Emergency Situations Ministry is ready to provide transportation for the repatriates as soon as weather conditions permit, Minister Colonel Vasilii Eshenko told Caucasus Press on 6 February. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February)

EASTERN TOURISTS ADVISED TO APPLY FOR MULTI-ENTRY VISAS. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said on 11 February that Poland is preparing an information campaign for its eastern neighbors to convince them to apply for multi-entry visas now, PAP reported. "Today people prefer buying [tourist] vouchers to applying for visas, but we will try to convince them that in the long run [multi-entry visas] will be [better for them]," Cimoszewicz noted. He added that the government wants to introduce such a visa system for Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians, which would not make it difficult for ordinary people to travel to Poland. Cimoszewicz admitted that the question is difficult because of purely organizational reasons. He said last year 29 million people crossed the Polish border, adding that it would be nearly impossible for Polish consulates to issue that many visas. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February)

Central Asia: U.S., Rights Groups At Odds Over Approach To Reforms

By Jean-Christophe Peuch, with contributions by Iskandar Aliev

While the United States is stepping up efforts to eradicate terrorism and isolate such countries as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, human rights groups are cautioning Washington against courting authoritarian leaders in Central Asia who might use the international drive against terror to consolidate their power by eliminating all forms of dissent. In their defense, U.S. officials say increased support to these regimes will boost democratization.

Since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, rights activists, intellectuals, and liberal politicians have cautioned governments against taking advantage of the international drive against terrorism to justify their own crackdowns on political or religious dissent. From democratic Australia -- which cited the terrorist attacks to justify the illegal detention of hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers -- to European Union candidate Turkey --which is considering banning a pro-Kurdish political party for its alleged terrorist links -- many countries are being singled out for failing to abide by international rule of law in their efforts to address security threats.

Human rights groups note that, since September, abuses have significantly increased in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya, where federal troops are being blamed for indiscriminate violence against civilians. And in China, authorities have used the September events as a pretext to step up reprisals against the 8-million-strong Uyghur minority living in the northwestern Xinjiang province. Both Moscow and Beijing accuse their respective separatist movements of organized links with Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network, but neither capital has so far produced any definite evidence to sustain such claims. Of particular concern to human rights groups is the increasing political and military cooperation between the U.S. and those Central Asian governments that have played a significant role in the anti-Taliban campaign but which show little tolerance for any form of internal dissent.

Hundreds of American soldiers are currently based in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, both of whom U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in mid-January praised for what he described as "the extraordinary effort they have made to provide support" to the Afghan campaign. Critics believe U.S. President George W. Bush's administration -- which is itself being reproached for its alleged rough handling of Al-Qaeda prisoners � is prepared to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in some Central Asian countries in return for their loyalty.

On 18 January, Amnesty International, released a report dismissing claims that protecting human rights cannot co-exist with effective action against terrorism and objecting to those who argue that the threat of terrorism justifies limiting or suspending human rights. In an interview with RFE/RL, Amnesty spokeswoman Judith Arrenes cautioned the U.S. government against "double standards" when it comes to combating terrorism: "One of the things that we have been constant and very watchful and mindful of since 11 September is this kind of double-standards policy in relation to human rights. Whereas the Afghanistan regime was held accountable for absolutely everything that it had failed to do to uphold human rights, all of a sudden, in military-strategic interests, governments like the governments of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and so on suddenly became acceptable allies. Even the Russian government's own performance within Chechnya [became] acceptable, or definitely was not put under the scrutiny that we feel it should have faced."

U.S. officials deny such charges by human rights groups. Speaking on 5 February before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell said strategic cooperation does not preclude U.S. concerns about human rights. "We have a number of new friends, but we're not unmindful that a number of these new friends -- and I will say Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan -- do not have the kind of political systems yet that we think are appropriate to the 21st century. And we have no reservation about saying that to them," Powell said. Powell added that he had conveyed this message the day before to one of his visiting Central Asian counterparts: "I had the foreign minister of one of those countries in my office yesterday, and we talked about this very candidly. Corruption, human rights, and religious freedom -- all these things are important in a relationship with the United States. And don't ever expect to have a meeting where we don't talk about those issues, even though I'm complimenting you in the next sentence about what you've done in the war against terrorism."

Critics argue in response that on 27 January -- only two days after Uzbekistan held a controversial referendum extending President Islam Karimov's term of office from five to seven years -- the assistant U.S. secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Elizabeth Jones, announced in Tashkent that the U.S. will triple its economic aid to the impoverished state. American officials say that, far from lowering its guard on human rights, the Bush administration believes economic prosperity will boost democratic transformations in Central Asia, thus defusing political discontent and helping to uproot the causes of terrorism.

Barnett Rubin is a senior researcher at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. He also teaches at the New York-based Center for International Cooperation. In an interview with RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Rubin said the defeat of the Taliban should give the U.S. more leverage to promote democratization in Central Asia. "In the past, when the United States approached these governments about human rights questions and liberalization, the main answer [those governments] gave was: 'We can't become more open while we are subject to so many threats, especially coming from Afghanistan.' So I think that in this new situation, we can go back to them and say: 'Well, we have greatly reduced those threats, but we have to recognize that the cause of the dissent and disorder in your society is not only the external threat -- so that made it much worse -- but also the internal problems. So let's work together to try to resolve these internal problems -- economic and also political," Rubin said.

Karimov has justified his crackdown by the threat posed to his country by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an armed group that originally had its headquarters in the Ferghana Valley, an area that extends across Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Three years ago, IMU militants fled Uzbekistan to set up in Tajikistan before finding shelter in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Most IMU fighters -- including the movement's military leader, Juma Namangani � were reportedly either killed or taken prisoner during the U.S. Afghan campaign. Now that the IMU has been dismantled, Karimov says his regime is threatened by another Islamic movement known as the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, or Party of Islamic Liberation, which advocates the creation of a caliphate in the Ferghana Valley. Although party members claim they want to attain their political objectives by peaceful means, they are being harassed by authorities in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and even in Azerbaijan, where law-enforcement agencies last year claimed they had uncovered underground cells plotting against the state. Human rights groups believe that, despite recent improvements in Uzbekistan's criminal code and last month's trial of four policemen accused of torturing a Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist to death, Karimov still holds an estimated 7,000 political prisoners.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch group also notes that, in October, the U.S. State Department failed to list Uzbekistan among "countries of particular concern" in its annual report on religious freedom. Karimov is due to visit the U.S. in March. Critics argue Washington's post-Taliban policy toward Central Asia may, in the end, prove ineffective. They question whether local governments are willing to implement democratic changes and whether the U.S. will have the ability, or the political will, to ensure financial aid is used to foster reforms.

To some of these critics, the present situation is reminiscent of the Cold War, when the U.S. supported anti-communist countries however poor their human rights records might have been. Proponents of the current U.S. stance say the end justifies the means and that Washington's new containment policy might work against terrorism just as they believe it did against communism. But Amnesty spokeswoman Arrenes said nothing can justify a compliant attitude toward human rights violations: "Human rights cannot be compromised in the search for security. In fact, as an organization, we firmly believe that the building blocs for a safe and secure society lie within respecting human rights. If you look and analyze all the causes of discontent, all the causes of conflict, the majority of them tend to stem from a failure to respect some aspects of human rights. Be it because there is racism. Be it because there are ethnic differences. Be it because certain economic, cultural and social rights were not respected."

In an editorial published on 5 February in "The New York Times," U.S. scholar Michael Ignatieff gave a similar assessment, warning Washington not to disregard human rights issues when addressing security threats. Ignatieff, who teaches human rights at the Massachusetts-based John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote: "The United States, to encourage the building of secure states that do not harbor or export terror, will have to do more than secure [military] base agreements. It will have to pressure these countries to provide basic political rights and due process. As the Cold War should have taught us, cozying up to friendly authoritarians is a poor bet in the long term."