|Thursday, 14 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 1, No. 125, 97-09-25
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 1, No. 125, 25 September 1997
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO RESTRUCTURE DEBT TO RUSSIAThe National Assembly on 24 September ratified an agreement on restructuring Armenia's estimated $73.7 million debt to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The debt is repayable over 11 years, beginning in 2000, at a 5 percent annual interest rate. The agreement specifies that the debt may be repaid in hard currency, Russian rubles, and Armenian state assets, including shares of stock in state enterprises. In 1994, Armenia pledged a 15 percent stake in its Medzamor nuclear power station, the Nairit chemical plant, the Yerevan cognac distillery, and the Armelektromash electrical engineering plant as collateral for a 110 billion ruble credit. The 1997 Armenian state budget earmarked some $62 million for debt servicing (excluding the debt to Russia), but less than one-third of that amount has been repaid in the first nine months of this year.
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE SUSPENDS ACTIVITIESParuir Hairikyan, leader of the radical Union for Self-Determination, told journalists on 24 September that the opposition parties belonging to the National Accord Alliance (AHD) have decided to "freeze" their coordinated activities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hairikyan added, however, that the constituent parties are "ready to reunite, if necessary, to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law." Hairikyan said he is confident the bloc will reform before the 1999 parliamentary elections. The AHD was created in September 1996 to support National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan's presidential candidacy. Manukyan recently pronounced the alliance "dead" but not buried (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1997). The leaders of three other parties within the AHD told "Hayots Ashkhar" on 23 September that Manukyan has no right unilaterally to dissolve the bloc.
 HEAD OF UN OBSERVER MISSION RETURNS TO GEORGIAA UN spokesman said on 24 September that no disciplinary action will be taken against the commander of the UN observer mission in Georgia, Reuters and AFP reported. Major General Haroun ar-Rashid was recalled to New York to explain why he violated UN regulations by paying a $7,000 ransom for two of his men recently taken hostage in western Georgia. The spokesman said that in light of unspecified "mitigating circumstances," no action will be taken against the general.
 AZERBAIJANI EARLY OIL COUNTDOWNAn unnamed spokesman for the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AOIC), which is currently developing three Azerbaijani Caspian oil fields, told Interfax on 24 September that the first oil from the Chirag field will start flowing in the first week of October. Drilling of the first well at the Chirag field is almost completed. The AIOC also denied reports that its president canceled a visit to Georgia scheduled for 22 September, according to TURAN. An AIOC commission recently visited the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa to monitor construction of a $225 million terminal from which Azerbaijani oil from Baku will be loaded onto tankers, "Delovoy mir" reported. Construction is proceeding on schedule.
 DISAGREEMENT OVER COST OF AZERBAIJAN/CASPIAN PIPELINEGeorgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 22 September rejected as "wishful thinking" Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's claim that the planned oil export pipeline bypassing Chechnya is cheaper than that through Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. A Transneft press spokesman told Interfax on 24 September that the Chechen bypass pipeline will be guarded by Russian Interior Minister and Federal Security Service personnel. He added that construction will be completed in May 1998 and that the pipeline will have an annual throughput capacity of 40 million metric tons. French ambassador to Moscow Hubert Colin de Verdiere said on 24 September that France has no objections to the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Russia, noting that cost and security are the key factors. French companies are represented in two of the five major consortia currently operating in Azerbaijan.
 RUSSIAN OBLAST APPROVES KAZAKHSTAN/CASPIAN PIPELINEThe Astrakhan Oblast authorities on 24 September approved construction of that sector of the Tengiz-Novorossiisk export pipeline that traverses the oblast, Interfax reported. The oblast leadership also requested that the neighboring regions of Kalmykia, Stavropol, and Krasnodar, which must also approve construction of the pipeline across their territory, make a joint appeal to the Russian government to guarantee that the four regions will receive part of the income from the export of oil via the pipeline. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Almaty is distributing "Happiness Is Multiple Pipelines" bumper stickers, according to the "Baltimore Sun" on 24 September.
 KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA SIGN OIL DEAL...Almaty and Beijing on 24 September signed an estimated $9.5 billion deal on oil shipments and the construction of two pipelines, according to RFE/RL correspondents. China's number two leader Li Peng arrived in Almaty for a one-day visit to sign the deal with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The China National Oil Corporation will develop the Uzen and Aktyubinsk oil fields in western Kazakhstan. It will also build a 3,000 kilometer pipeline to China's western border and a 250 kilometer pipeline to the Turkmen border. Under the deal, the pipelines will begin operating within five years. Li called the deal a "new page" in Sino-Kazakh relations, while Nazarbayev said it was the "contract of the century."
 ....AND BORDER AGREEMENTNazarbayev and Li also signed an agreement demarcating an 11-kilometer section of the Sino-Kazakh border near the Khan Tengri mountain peak, according to RFE/RL correspondents. Sections of the border near Almaty and in eastern Kazakhstan are still being negotiated.
 FIRST STAGE OF TAJIK REPATRIATION COMPLETEDThe last 300 Tajik refugees from camps near the Nizhni Pyanj border crossing have entered Tajikistan from Afghanistan, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 25 September. This wraps up the first stage of the repatriation program. According to ITAR-TASS, 6,000 refugees from Afghanistan's Kunduz Province have crossed the border into Tajikistan since 17 July. The next stage, which is due to begin shortly, will repatriate about 7,000 refugees living in camps near the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Those refugees will pass through Termez, Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Tajik Prime Minister Yakhyo Azimov, who is attending the annual meeting off World Bank and the IMF in Hong Kong, has asked for $80 million in aid through the end of 1998 to help implement the Tajik General Agreement on Peace.
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 PLAVSIC, KRAJISNIK AGREE WITH MILOSEVIC TO RESOLVE DISPUTEYugoslav President SlobodanMilosevic, who is mediating the Bosnian Serb power struggle, met with Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, her hard-line opponent and the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, in Belgrade on 24 September. They agreed to hold parliamentary elections in the Bosnian Serb entity on 15 November under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Elections for Plavsic's and Krajisnik's posts will be held on 7 December. They also agreed on dividing air time on state television: one side will air its views one day and the other the next day. Plavsic said the deal will help bring a democratic resolution to their power struggle. Krajisnik commented that the deal is a political compromise that preserves a united Republika Srpska while "letting the people decide" whose policies will prevail.
 FINAL RESULTS OF SERBIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONSIn the 21 September elections to the parliament, Yugoslav President Milosevic's leftist alliance won 110 mandates in the 250-seat parliament. Vojislav Seselj's ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party collected 81 mandates and Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement 46. The Vojvojdina Coalition and the Union of Vojvojdina Hungarians will each have four seats, the List for Sandzak three, and the Presevo-Bujanovac Coalition and the Democratic Alternative one each.
 CONTACT GROUP EXPRESSES CONCERN ON KOSOVO...In a statement issued during the UN General Assembly session on 24 September, the foreign ministers of Russia, the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, and Britain expressed serious concern about tensions in Kosovo. The six-nation Contact Group urged authorities in Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanian community to join a peaceful dialogue and create conditions for Kosovar refugees to return home. The statement warned against the use of violence to press political demands and urged all sides to exercise maximum restraint. The six foreign ministers reiterated their opposition to independence for Kosovo and instead called on Belgrade to enhance Kosovo's status within the Yugoslav federation by fully protecting the rights of the Albanian population.
 ...AGREES TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON BOSNIAThe Contact Group also agreed to impose tougher sanctions against Bosnian ethnic factions that fail to uphold the provisions of the Dayton Peace Accords. It called on all ethnic groups to comply with the accords, saying those blocking implementation will be subject to increasingly strong measures. It condemned continuing misuse of the news media to spread inflammatory messages and disinformation. It further stressed the importance of installing the new municipal governments recently elected and allowing the winners to take office.
 NATO AGREES TO DELAY START OF WITHDRAWAL OF SFORNATO ambassadors, meeting in Brussels on 24 September, postponed a decision on when to start withdrawing the 35,000-strong NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). The withdrawal is due to be completed by mid-1998. A decision on reducing SFOR troops is not expected before a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in December.
 BOSNIAN CROATS AGREE TO JOINT INVESTIGATION INTO MOSTAR BOMBINGA spokesman for the international community's high representative in Bosnia Carlos Westendorp said on 24 September that Bosnian Croat leaders have agreed to conduct a joint investigation with officials from the Muslim- Croat federation into the 18 September car bomb explosion that injured 30 people in the divided city of Mostar. Bosnian President Alia Izetbegovic had demanded a joint investigation.
 CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES WASHINGTONMate Granic has said that U.S. pressure on Zagreb to accelerate implementation of the peace process in eastern Slavonia is "completely unnecessary and unjustified." Speaking in New York to Croatian television on 24 September, Granic commented that "everything can be resolved through dialogue, not through pressure." Meanwhile, on his return to Ankara from Zagreb on 24 September, President Suleyman Demirel told Turkish Television that during his visit to Croatia, an agreement on the prevention of double taxation and an agricultural protocol were signed. He also said a bilateral free trade agreement will be signed shortly.
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ON CORRUPTIONEmil Constantinescu told journalists on 24 September that corruption has depleted the country's national wealth. He said that although the government won the elections in 1996, economic power is still largely in the hands of people involved in illicit dealings. The former government of Nicolae Vacaroiu condoned corruption and some of its members, including deputy ministers, were personally involved in illegal dealing, he added. Constantinescu spoke at length on illegal dealings in the merchant fleet, the fertilizer industry, and petrol and refineries import-export companies. He said the former government allowed tens of thousands of tons of fuel to be smuggled to rump Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.
 PRIVATIZATION DEALS IN ROMANIAThe State Ownership Fund (FPS) has agreed to sell the South Korean Samsung company 51 percent of the shares in the steel producer Otelinox, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported on 25 September. The previous day, FPS director Sorin Dimitriu told RFE/RL that a 51 percent stake in Romcim, the country's largest cement producer, has been sold to the French company Lafarge for $400 million. Lafarge pledged to invest $200 million in Romcim over the next four years.
 TRANSDNIESTRIAN LEADER ON RUSSIAN HELICOPTER INCIDENTIgor Smirnov on 24 September said the incident last week in which a Russian helicopter was fired on by Transdniestrian soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 1997) was caused by "drunk soldiers" who "were guarding the harvest." Smirnov said the culprits will be put on trial, "not for shooting at the helicopter but for the unallowed use of weapons," Infotag reported.
 PRO-PRESIDENTIAL POLITICAL BLOC FORMED IN MOLDOVAThe pro-presidential Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova on 24 September joined forces with three other organizations to form the Bloc for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, Infotag reported. The three organizations are the Popular Democratic Party, the New Forces movement, and the National Youth League. The bloc defines itself as centrist.
 BULGARIA'S ZHIVKOV HOLD PRESS CONFERENCESpeaking to journalists in Sofia six days after his release from house arrest, Todor Zhivkov denied Bulgaria was involved in the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II. He also said the Bulgarian secret services had not been involved in the 1978 assassination of journalist Georgi Markov. Zhivkov is currently under investigation for allegedly channeling millions of U.S. dollars to pro-communist movements in Third World countries and for initiating the compulsory assimilation of ethnic Turks in the 1980s. He argued that the investigation should be halted, noting that the country's new constitution strictly limits legal actions against past presidents, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported on 24 September.
 BULGARIAN VETERAN DIPLOMATS TO BE DISMISSEDForeign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 24 September said the ministry will dismiss veteran diplomats to make room for younger staff who would better present the country's new foreign policy objectives, Reuters reported. He said the measure did not represent "political sackings" since it was part of the reform of the ministry, which is to undergo a 10 percent cut in personnel.
 BULGARIAN PREMIER INVITES CHERNOMYRDIN TO VISITIvan Kostov on 24 September invited Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to pay an official visit to Bulgaria, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The message said the two countries are "strategic partners" and that Bulgaria wants to seek to reach agreement on the "remaining unsolved problems in bilateral trade and economic relations." The invitation comes against the background of differences between the two governments over the cost of Russian natural gas deliveries to Bulgaria.
[C] END NOTE
 A DANGEROUS NEW ORTHODOXYby Paul Goble
New Russian legislation restricting missionary activity in particular and religious freedom in general could threaten Moscow's relations with the West and especially with the U.S. On 19 September, the State Duma approved a revised law on religious organizations by a vote of 358 to six. Four days later, the Federation Council approved it by 137 to zero. It now goes to President Boris Yeltsin, who is expected to sign it.
Yeltsin's office drafted the revised bill after he had vetoed the original version in July, following protests by human rights groups and a threat by the U.S. Senate to block some $200 million in aid if he did not. But despite his promises that the problems of the first draft would be eliminated, the new version of the law contains virtually all the provisions of the original as well as a number of new and even more restrictive ones.
Like the original bill, the new legislation divides denominations into two groups: those with 15 years of recognized operation that could function openly and those without such standing that could not legally their religions, publish, or maintain a bank account. Advocates of the law, including the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, have suggested that such legislation is needed to protect historical Russian faiths from the impact of missionaries for other religious groups who have entered Russia since the fall of communism. And they argue that the law protects not only Russian Orthodoxy but also Roman Catholicism, the Baptist church, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.
But such claims are not justified by the text of the law. While the legislation might protect congregations and hierarchies already registered with the state, it would do little to protect congregations within those faiths not registered in the past. Thus, the many Jewish synagogues that have arisen since the end of Soviet power might not be protected by the law, and the large number of Roman Catholic congregations active underground even before 1991 might not have the right to continue to exist.
Moreover, the new legislation, which its advocates say is designed to keep out "dangerous" sects, would make it extremely difficult for groups not registered with the Soviet state in the past or with the Russian state now to survive long enough to gain the protections enjoyed by registered groups.
Because of those restrictions, both human rights activists and Western governments have already indicated their dismay. For example, Lawrence Uzzell--the Moscow representative of Britain's Keston Institute, a group that monitors religious life in Russia--said the new measure is "not a law that protects tradition but a law that protects Stalinism, as it protects only those religious bodies that were most loyal to the Soviet state." As such, he said, the measure is "manifestly unconstitutional," even if it enjoys widespread support in the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, the Russian state, and the Russian public.
A spokesman for President Bill Clinton said that the U.S. leader had expressed his concerns about the law during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov in New York on 22 September. Similarly, Vice President Al Gore told Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow one day later that he, too, is worried about the new legislation.
But despite such expressions of Western concern--and possibly even because of them--Yeltsin seems unlikely to veto the law this time. Not only is he under pressure from the increasingly influential Russian Orthodox hierarchy, but he is confronted by an almost unanimous Duma and broad support for the measure among many ordinary Russians.
But both he and Russia more generally are likely to learn quickly that Americans and others who may not always understand all the intricacies of other human rights issues will immediately recognize violations of religious liberty. And their attitudes are likely to affect the way in which their governments deal with a Russian government apparently committed to a new and not very free orthodoxy on religious questions.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty