|Thursday, 14 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 24, 97-05-05
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 24, 5 May 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT IN ARMENIAEduard Shevardnadze and his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter- Petrossyan, have affirmed their readiness to broaden bilateral cooperation and to support multilateral regional cooperation in implementing the TRASECA "Silk Road" project. Shevardnadze was in Yerevan on 2 and 3 May for talks with Armenian officials. In a joint communique, the two presidents also affirmed support for cooperation within the CIS and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. The communique, however, did not mention the 200,000-strong Armenian minority in southern Georgia, which is lobbying for autonomy. Shevardnadze had told RFE/RL's Armenian service on 1 May that Georgia's relations with Armenia are "excellent." Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 3 May that Shevardnadze, who will be 70 next January, intends to run for president in 2000.
 ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY TRIED TO POSTPONE RATIFICATION OF TREATY ON MILITARY BASERFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 2 May that the Armenian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the parliament last month arguing that ratification of the 1995 treaty on a Russian military base in Armenia should be delayed. The letter, published in Molorak , argues that Armenian security would be at risk if the treaty were ratified before the conclusion of the ongoing Vienna talks on modifying the CFE flank limitations, which specify how much military hardware Russia can deploy in the Caucasus. Although some deputies voiced reservations, the treaty was ratified by an overwhelming majority on 29 April.
 IMF CONFIRMS NEW LOAN TO AZERBAIJAN, SETS CONDITIONS FOR ARMENIAIMF executive Tapio Saavolainen has confirmed the fund's December 1996 decision to lend Azerbaijan $230 million in 1997-1998 to underpin economic reform, AFP and Interfax reported. Saavolainen, who was in Baku on 2 May to meet with President Heidar Aliev, praised Azerbaijan's cooperation with the IMF. Meanwhile, an IMF delegation began talks in Yerevan on 1 May on conditions for disbursing the third tranche of a 1996 credit worth $150 million. Disbursement is contingent on improvements in tax collection and the reduction of Armenia's $580 million foreign debt.
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL ON AZERBAIJAN'S MEMBERSHIP CHANCESLeni Fischer, the chairwoman of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, says swift progress toward a settlement of the Karabakh conflict will facilitate the entry of both Azerbaijan and Armenia into the council, Reuters and Turan reported on 1 May. Fischer was speaking to Azerbaijani officials in Baku last week. She said a final decision on Azerbaijan's application for full membership will be made following a visit to Azerbaijan by a CE delegation of experts. Fischer met with Milli Mejlis chairman Murtuz Alesqerov, President Heidar Aliev, and Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov.
 VIOLENT CONFRONTATION IN TAJIKISTAN OVER INVESTIGATION INTO PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTFive people died yesterday in a violent confrontation when forces from the Interior and Security Ministries tried to arrest a gang in connection with the 30 April assassination attempt on President Imomali Rakhmonov in the northern city of Khujand, ITAR-TASS reported. The gang was offered the chance to surrender but declined. Three were killed in the shootout that followed, while one blew himself up with a grenade and the leader shot himself. RFE/RL correspondents in the area report that 10 people were wounded in the fighting. Two people were taken into custody immediately following the attack, and another 10 were arrested on 3 May.
 ITALIAN PRESIDENT IN CENTRAL ASIALuigi Scalfaro and his Kazak counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, met in Almaty today and signed a friendship and cooperation agreement, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Nazarbayev noted that trade with Italy totaled nearly $240 million in 1996. On 2 May, Scalfaro met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and leaders of the Uzbek business community in Tashkent, Russian media reported. Agreements were signed on cooperation in economics, trade, culture, and tourism. Trade between the two countries has grown from $45 million in 1993 to $142 million in 1996.
 MUD SLIDES DAMAGE HOMES IN KYRGYZSTANHeavy rains and accompanying mud slides have damaged more than 700 homes in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported today. The area most affected was outside the city of Uzgen. Emergency measures are being taken to resettle those left homeless. Meanwhile, the rains threaten to spread typhoid in Tajikistan. An outbreak last year was never fully checked, and the country's water network is likely to be recontaminated.
 UZBEKISTAN HAS LOWEST CRIME RATE IN CISThe Interior Ministry has released figures showing that Uzbekistan has the lowest crime rate in the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. In 1996, there were 29 crimes per 10,000 people, compared with 97 per 10,000 in neighboring Kazakstan. Russia topped the list with 175 per 10,000 people.
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ITALY CALLS FOR HALT TO ALBANIAN EXODUSItalian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has demanded that Albanian President Sali Berisha and Prime Minister Bashkim Fino put a stop to the sea-borne exodus of Albanians to Italy (see RFE/RL Newsline, 28 April 1997). Prodi spoke on the phone yesterday with the Albanian leaders. A ship carrying more than 1,000 Albanians arrived in the Italian port of Bari yesterday, despite the Italian Coast Guard's appeals to the captain to turn back. Italian authorities say they will treat most of the Albanians as illegal immigrants and deport them soon. A well-organized and lucrative traffic in refugees has reportedly sprung up again in recent weeks. Professional smugglers buy old ships in Montenegro and charge those desperate to leave Albania $600 for passage.
 ALBANIAN ROUNDUPThe Interior Ministry said in Tirana on 3 May that five people were killed in recent incidents in Permet, Berat, and Shkoder. In the Tirana area, Italian troops participating in Operation Alba made efforts on 2 and 3 May to identify ammunition and weapons dumps (see RFE/RL Newsline, 2 May 1997). Italian spokesmen denied that the soldiers were exceeding their mandate and said that the search was part of their mission to make the area safe for humanitarian aid shipments. The Albanian government wants the foreigners to secure the arms and ammunition depots and the country's borders, but French and Italian commanders say that is not their job.
 SESELJ TO RUN FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENCYVojislav Seselj announced in Belgrade yesterday that he will be the Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) candidate for president in the Serbia-wide elections expected later this year. Seselj is a leader of the SRS and an ultra-nationalist whom the Croatian, Bosnian, and U.S. authorities have accused of war crimes. Recent polls show him to be the second most popular politician in Serbia after President Slobodan Milosevic. The only other candidates so far are the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic and the independent businessman Bogoljub Karic.
 INDEPENDENT CROATIAN WEEKLY FINEDThe Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija wrote yesterday that the Croatian authorities have fined Feral Tribune $7,000 for running a cover photo that the authorities called pornographic. Tomislav Mercep, a local kingpin in eastern Slavonia who recently broke with the ruling party and headed an independent slate in last month's elections, was featured in the photo- montage urinating. The authorities have frequently harassed Feral Tribune with lawsuits.
 CROATIA'S TUDJMAN MEETS WITH BOSNIAN CROAT LEADERPresident Franjo Tudjman and Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, met in Zagreb on 3 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. Zubak said afterward that Bosnian government ministers will meet with representatives of the international community soon to discuss the legislation on which the three Bosnian sides must agree if the frequently postponed international aid donors' conference is to take place. On 2 May, the office of Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the presidency, announced that a meeting between Izetbegovic and Tudjman slated for today has been indefinitely postponed. The pro- government Zagreb daily Vjesnik reports that the Muslims backed out of the talks because they do not think Tudjman is ready to compromise on key points of contention.
 BOSNIAN ELECTION UPDATEThe Party of Democratic Action, the main Muslim political organization in Bosnia, said on 3 May that it will run in the September local elections in coalition with five smaller parties. The most important of those formations is the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina of Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim joint prime minister. Also in Sarajevo, the OSCE announced on 2 May that some 93 parties have said they will field candidates in the local elections. Only 48 of those parties ran in last year's vote; the other 43 are new. The OSCE also said that the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats have been unable to agree on election rules for the disputed strategic town of Brcko.
 FORMER BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CLEARED OF ORDERING JANUARY CRACKDOWN ON DEMONSTRATORSThe military prosecutor's office on 2 May announced that former Minister of Interior Nikolai Dobrev, a member of the Socialist Party, did not issue orders to use violence against the siege of the parliament by demonstrators in January, an RFE/RL Sofia correspondent reported. The prosecution also cleared former Interior Ministry secretary Georgi Lambrov and former Sofia police chief Krassimir Petrov of committing any crime in connection with the demonstrations. Some 300 persons had to be hospitalized after police and special forces broke up the siege of the parliament. The prosecution said the excessive violence was the result of individual officers' behavior.
 FAILED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON CONSTANTINESCU, STOYANOV IN SOFIA?The Bulgarian daily Trud reported yesterday that visiting Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and his Bulgarian host, Petar Stoyanov, were the targets of an assassination attempt during Constantinescu's one-day visit to Sofia last week. The daily said a home-made device consisting of 700 grams of explosives and an army hand grenade were found near Sofia's airport, close to where the cars transporting the two presidents would have needed to slow down because of a road curve. The daily speculated that the attack might have been planned by Kurdish terrorists in retaliation for strict measures implemented in Romania against the Kurdistan Workers' Party.
 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER IN BULGARIARichard Shifter, adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton, met with interim Prime Minister Stefan Sofiyanski in Sofia on 1-2 May to discuss issues related to intensified regional cooperation in the Balkans, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. Sofiyanski stressed that the Balkan countries, especially Bulgaria and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, are important links between Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian government has resumed discussions over a long-delayed project to construct a pipe-line from the Black Sea port of Bourgas to the Greek Aegean port of Alexandropolis to transport Russian oil. The issue was raised again during Bulgarian Foreign Minister Stoyan Stalev's visit to Greece last week.
 AGRICULTURE MINISTERS MEET IN BUCHARESTAgriculture ministers from 19 East and Central European countries yesterday concluded a four-day meeting in Bucharest, Romanian media reported. The conference is also attended by experts from the UN. Delegates discussed ways of increasing agricultural output to match EU levels. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea told the conference that his government envisages amending agricultural legislation and providing for ownership of up to 200 hectares per family.
[C] END NOTE
 CROATIA CONTINUES TO GRAPPLE WITH PRESSING PROBLEMSby Patrick Moore
Last month's elections in Croatia reinforced the governing Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) claim that it is the strongest political force in the country. The ballot also showed that Serb- held eastern Slavonia is well on the way to reintegration. The Croatian leadership nonetheless continues to face several pressing problems.
The HDZ clinched 42 out of 63 elected seats in the upper house and scored a similarly impressive victory in the local elections. The only blot on its performance was the opposition's gaining control over Rijeka, Split, Osijek, and some other municipalities. But, in the bitter contest for the Zagreb city council, the HDZ emerged much stronger than before. Appropriately, the independent weekly Globus, which has often crossed swords with President Franjo Tudjman, showed a picture of him grinning on the cover of its post- election issue.
The opposition has nobody but itself to blame for its poor performance. Many observers expected big losses for the HDZ, which, according to opinion polls, is increasingly regarded as authoritarian, ossified, and corrupt. But the parties that have dominated the opposition scene since independence paid the price once again for failing to promote leaders and develop programs that set those formations apart from the HDZ. In particular, the ex-communist Social Democratic Party had good reason to celebrate. It bounced back from near political oblivion to become the opposition party with the fastest-growing electorate. More and more voters seem to think that only the Social Democrats are addressing the electorate's key concern, which is making ends meet.
Meanwhile, the vote in eastern Slavonia gave grounds for optimism that the reintegration of the last Serb-held part of Croatia will go ahead peacefully when Croatian sovereignty is re-established in July. Serbs and Croatian refugees turned out in large numbers to vote. The HDZ emerged the strongest party, but the Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SSDS) took several counties and towns. The SSDS narrowly edged out the HDZ for control over the Vukovar town council, but the two may cut a deal in order to shut out a third party controlled by a local Croatian warlord, who is anathema to the Serbs and the HDZ alike.
International observers declared the vote both in eastern Slavonia and in Croatia proper to have been largely free and fair. One of the few flaws they discovered was the authorities' continued iron grip on the press in general and on the electronic media in particular. State-run TV, for example, provided free publicity to HDZ candidates. While the HDZ may assert that it won fairly in a free election, that claim will remain questionable until the authorities open up access to the air waves and stop harassing the independent press with dubious legal measures.
Many problems arise from the daunting task of reintegrating not just eastern Slavonia but also all former Serb-held areas retaken by the army in 1995. Money and resources must be marshaled to restore the infrastructure after years of war and neglect. Refugees must be resettled in their homes, many of which are in need of repair or have to be rebuilt. And ethnic Serbs and Croats have to be convinced that they have a place in society and should return to their old homes. Many observers feel that the government would be only too happy if no Serbs remained in Croatia. But Zagreb knows that its foreign partners can withdraw vital economic and diplomatic support if they think that Croatia is openly discriminating against ethnic minorities. The authorities will therefore try at least to give the impression that they are welcoming the Serbs.
Finally, Croatia's sometimes shaky relations with its allies in the U.S. and western Europe are also causing concern in some quarters. Opposition politicians and some foreign newspapers even talk of Zagreb's growing isolation. While Croatian Ambassador to the U.S. Miomir Zuzul told RFE/RL last week that such views are wrong and that Croatia's international standing is good, an RFE/RL correspondent in Zagreb called his viewpoint "too rosy." Croatian policy, the correspondent argues, is torn between reaping the benefits of economic integration with the West and refusing to subordinate Croatia's interests at home or abroad to the political considerations of its allies.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty