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Watch List: January 21, 2000

21 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 3

CHECHEN DIPLOMAT SEES PEACE TALKS AFTER RUSSIAN ELECTIONS. In the current phase of what he called Russia's "war of extermination," about 120,000 Chechen civilians have lost their lives so far, Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov of the Chechen Republic told an RFE/RL breakfast briefing on 18 January. As for Russian casualties, he said that 3,000 dead and 6,000 wounded, estimated by the committee of the soldiers' mothers in Moscow, is "far closer to reality" than the figures in the hundreds released by Russia's Defense and Interior Ministries. While many more are likely to die, the Chechen diplomat added, the conflict has so far yielded "neither victory nor defeat" for either side.

After the fighting stops, Akhmadov said, "real talks" will begin. They will be "very complicated," he said, because both sides will have to make compromises. "But in our case," he cautioned, "our independent status and our territory will not be subject to compromises." Challenged by a question as to what will happen if acting President Vladimir Putin keeps his word not to negotiate, Akhmadov responded that "once Vladimir Putin is elected Russia's president, the first thing he will do is to begin negotiations."

Akhmadov said that both sides had made mistakes. He blamed the Chechen government for not cracking down on what he called "the kidnap industry," but he also pointed out that the Russians, who have their own bandits, share some of the responsibility because they paid the ransom and thus converted ordinary people into something else.

He mentioned that at times the Russians, including officials in the Interior Ministry, paid ransom directly in arms, even though they knew that the arms would be used against them. Though a battalion of Interior Ministry troops was dispatched to retrieve the hostages, the kidnappers were never caught. Akhmadov mentioned that the high official in charge of those murky arrangements was Vladimir Rushailo, now the minister of interior.

He further reminded his audience of the two centuries of the Russian-Chechen conflict. "Generations of Chechens were born in war, grew up in war, and died in war," he said. He also cited examples of promises broken by the Russians. A recent one had to do with the offer on 29 December of a "free corridor" for civilians wishing to leave besieged Grozny. "Thousands tried to get through to the checkpoint," he said, "and they had to cross two frontlines, during which they served as attractive targets for Russian bombers and artillery." But when they finally reached the border with Ingushetia, the Russian guards told them to turn around and go back to Grozny. The reason the Russians gave, Akhmadov said, was that their computers had broken down and thus they could not process the refugees.

Akhmadov expressed his apprehensions about Russian statements about "liberating" Grozny "in an unusual, inordinate way." As a young draftee in the Russian army, he said, his training focused on killing all the enemy and taking no prisoners, which he identified as the root of "the Russians' massive violations of human rights in Chechnya."

Nevertheless, Akhmadov, named foreign minister only last summer, did not forecast the end of his people. "For the past eight years we had frantic notions," he said, "but no policies." He insisted that the help his people needed from the West is not for arms or even money but for progress to be achieved in the fields of culture, health, and education. "Chechnya needs to come to consider itself a normal national entity," he said, "not an exotic scrap of land."

CHECHNYA AS ULSTER, CHECHNYA AS THE GOBI DESERT. One of Russia's senior commanders in its 1994-96 war in Chechnya, General Anatolii Kulikov, called that republic "our Ulster" and predicted that the fighting will last for years, Britain's "Electronic Telegraph" reported on 18 January. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Rutskoi, a former vice president of Russia and currently a regional governor, suggested that "the whole of Chechnya should be turned into a Gobi desert in a week's time."

ELEVEN JOURNALISTS KILLED IN RUSSIA IN 1999, REPORT SAYS. Eleven journalists were killed in 1999 in Russia (including three in Chechnya), down from 14 in 1998, according to a report published on 14 January by the Glasnost Defense Foundation. "But the work of a journalist is getting more dangerous, especially during election campaigns," foundation spokesman Oleg Panfilov said. "Independent journalists that authorities cannot tame are beaten up." According to the Glasnost report, 14 journalists had been attacked in the run-up to legislative elections on 19 December.

KAZAKH SECRET POLICE NOW MONITOR ALL ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS. The Kazakh National Security Committee--the former KGB--now has the right to monitor electronic messages (e-mail), Internet access, faxes, and telephone calls of any organization, company, firm, or individual it deems "suspicious," according to an 18 January broadcast by the Almaty television station "31 Kanal," as reported by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. The broadcast said that the government adopted such a decree on 20 December. In Almaty, the National Security Committee is headed by Rakhat Aliev, President Nursultan Nazarbaev's son-in-law, and the monitoring unit, called Telecommunications Billing Center, was set up last December.

SERIOUSLY ILL UZBEK JOURNALIST REMAINS IN PRISON. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has issued an alert on the deteriorating health of reporter Shadi Mardiev, 63, formerly with the state-run Samarkand radio station. On 11 June 1998, an Uzbek court sentenced Mardiev to an 11-year prison term on charges of defamation and extortion. The suit against him arose from a broadcast in which he satirized the alleged corruption of Talat Abdulkhalikzada, Samarkand's deputy prosecutor. CPJ believes that the long prison term is meant to silence Mardiev, known for his critical stance toward government officials.

OSCE SCORES TURKMEN LAW CREATING PRESIDENT-FOR-LIFE. The OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media, Freimut Duve, condemned the recent decision by the Turkmen parliament to abolish limits on presidential terms, a step which in effect makes incumbent Saparmurat Niyazov president-for-life. Such a step "virtually rules out the possibility of the development of any independent media in Turkmenistan and is deeply disturbing in its human rights implications," a 17 January statement declared. "Turkmenistan, already the country in the OSCE with the poorest record in terms of media freedom, has now taken a major step backward."

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT STOYANOV VETOES LIBEL LAW. On 17 January, Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov vetoed a law passed by parliament imposing heavy fines on journalists found guilty of slander or libel. While the parliament's action did abolish imprisonment for libel or slander, it set fines at the maximum of $15,500, which Stoyanov said was "excessively high, compared to the low income of journalists."

SERBIA'S LARGEST INDEPENDENT TV CHANNEL ROBBED. In a letter to Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers protested an attack on a transmitter belonging to Studio B, the country's largest opposition television channel. On 16 January, unknown individuals broke into a container housing Studio B's transmitter on Mount Kosmaj, some 40 kilometers south of Belgrade and stole equipment worth about $52,000. The theft reduced by half the number of viewers who could receive the programs.

CONSTANTINOPLE PATRIARCH BLESSES ROMA AND OTHER MINORITIES. In a 28 December letter to a colloquium on Roma rights in Europe organized by the group Doctors of the World, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew welcomed "any initiative which intends to improve the conditions" of Roma life and to integrate them into society, "provided that this integration takes into consideration their freedom and desire." The Orthodox patriarch expressed his amazement at the "endurance" of the Roma and admiration for their "ingenuity as regards ways of survival, oftentimes in extremely difficult conditions." He gave his blessings to all minorities seeking "the place and the way of living which would be worthy of the sacredness of the human race."

**UPDATE ON THREE MISSING BELARUSIANS** It has been 255 days since the disappearance of former Belarusian Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, and 109 days since the disappearances of Viktar Ganchar, deputy chairman of the de jure Belarusian parliament, and his businessman friend Anatol Krasovsky.

BRIEFS: LATVIA. On 18 January Premier Andris Skele said he does not regret condemning Russia's war in Chechnya as "genocide," even though his remark generated protest from Russia's Foreign Ministry which charged that Stele was supporting "terrorists" and misinterpreting Russian policies. "My reaction was sharp," Skele said. "I am glad that Russia listened to the view of the international community." Skele's original comments followed the announcement of Russia's policy of detaining all Chechen males between 10 and 60 years of age. SERBIA. Several nongovernmental organizations in Belgrade condemned the murder on 28 December of Dejan Nebrigic, 28, founder of Arkadija, the local gay rights movement as well as the manner in which the authorities were contemptuous of the victim as "a danger to society." At a meeting on the subject of the murder, NGO leaders praised Nebrigic for campaigning against homophobia and other forms of discrimination. TATARSTAN. On 15 January in the republic's second city of Chally, the Tatar Public Center held a rally against the Russian war in Chechnya, according to an RFE/RL report. The rally adopted a resolution calling on the Russian government to stop the war and start negotiations with the elected government in Grozny.


By Charles Fenyvesi

Zeljko Raznatovic, the notorious Serbian paramilitary leader secretly indicted by The Hague war crimes tribunal in 1997, died in much the same way he lived: in a blaze of gunfire, with bodies all around him slumping to the floor of a fancy hotel lobby. Known by his nom de guerre Arkan, he was the poster warlord of ethnic cleansing and the founder of a paramilitary organization called "The Tigers." Their masked faces and swaggering physiques squeezed into battle fatigues often appeared on the television screen and on the front pages of newspapers across the world. But they were executioners rather than fighters and specialized in gunning down civilians and eliminating entire families and neighborhoods.

Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Kosovar Albanians learned to fear them. Early on in the Serbian onslaught of Croatia, during the three-month siege of Vukovar, Arkan acquired a reputation for roaring with laughter while killing and watching his men kill. The Tigers were also active in Bosnia. By the time Kosova's turn came, Arkan stayed in Belgrade, but ethnic Albanians remember the veterans he dispatched as the most ruthless of the Serbs.

Opinions are split on the identity of Arkan's assassin. Three days after the killing, on 18 January, Information Minister Goran Matic blamed "the Montenegrin mafia which wanted to take over Belgrade." He called Arkan "a criminal," but denied any government involvement in the assassination.

Arkan was as successful in business as in war. A hairdresser and an ice cream parlor owner before Yugoslavia's dissolution--and a bank robber before that--he became one of the country's wealthiest men, dealing in the black market and trading in arms. His Tigers looted the houses of the people they killed, and soon after their return to Serbia, they paraded themselves not only as patriots but rich men as well.

However, the most likely explanation appears to be that the Milosevic regime itself dispatched the two masked gunmen to the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel last Saturday night. Arkan knew too much, and he could not be trusted.

"Arkan had been in touch with the Hague tribunal," says Jim Hooper of the Washington-based Balkan Action Council. "He was trying to cut a deal, and the regime which has penetrated both the tribunal and Arkan's Tigers would not tolerate that. Arkan's killing was meant to enforce discipline and to warn other Milosevic supporters not to cross the Rubicon." Hooper argues that over the past few years the dozen or so assassinations--all of them unsolved--targeted security and military types who had been Milosevic stalwarts but strayed from the party line.

Arkan's many contacts included opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, who told "The New York Times" that Milosevic was riled by Arkan's support of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who turned against Milosevic in 1997. Arkan was also often seen with officials of state security. The two companions gunned down with him were a business associate involved in casinos and a senior police official in charge of foreign visitors.

One thing seems certain: the killers who killed the killer did not come from the ranks of Serbia's democratic opposition. Nor is it likely that Arkan was a victim of revenge by Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, or Kosovar Albanians. The men responsible for igniting Yugoslavia's civil wars are now turning against those who once fought on the same side with them.