|Thursday, 12 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 97, 98-05-22
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 97, 22 May 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 SITUATION ON GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ BORDER REMAINS TENSESporadic minor clashes are continuing in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion between Georgian guerrillas and Abkhaz forces after the Abkhaz Interior Ministry sent another 800 men to the district, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. The Abkhaz are setting fire to Georgian homes as they retreat. Addressing an emergency session of the Georgian National Security Council on 21 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said Tbilisi will use "both diplomatic talks and any other methods" to defend its territorial integrity. In an implicit denial of Georgian claims that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia is colluding with the Abkhaz, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement on 21 May saying the peacekeepers are acting in accordance with their mandate and demonstrating "courage and endurance," ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 GEORGIA REJECTS ABKHAZ PRESIDENT'S OFFER OF TALKSVladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 21 May that he is ready "at any time" for talks with Shevardnadze on the recent clashes in Gali, Interfax reported. Ardzinba blamed the leadership of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, composed of ethnic Georgian deputies elected to the Abkhaz parliament in 1991, for the recent fighting. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said in Moscow on 21 May that Russia favors a meeting between Ardzinba and Shevardnadze in order to "normalize" the situation in Gali. Rakhmanin said both Tbilisi and Sukhumi precipitated the recent hostilities by failing to "show the necessary political will" to expedite the repatriation of displaced persons and curtail guerrilla activities in Gali. But Shevardnadze's press spokesman, Vakhtang Abashidze, said a meeting between the two presidents is "hardly possible' in the near future as Ardzinba "has no new proposals" on resolving the conflict. LF
 GEORGIAN NAVAL COMMANDER FIREDNewly appointed Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze has dismissed Naval Commander Otar Chkhartishvili for financial irregularities and logistical incompetence, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 20 May. Tevzadze had criticized Chkhartishvili at a conference of defense officials the previous day. Chkhartishvili was appointed in March 1997 by Tevzadze's predecessor, Vardiko Nadibaidze, to replace Aleksandr Djavakhishvili. Djavakhishvili was forced to resign several months earlier following disagreements with Nadibaidze over the size and structure of the country's naval forces (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 16 December 1996). LF
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS DOWN ON TAX CUTSLawmakers on 21 May voted down a bill reducing value- added tax from 20 percent to 15 percent in order to avoid a confrontation with the new government , RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous day, the parliament had approved in the first reading a law substantially reducing government revenues from income tax. Vartan Khachatrian, deputy chairman of the Committee on Finance and Economics and author of both initiatives, argued that a lower tax burden will spur economic activity and boost economic growth. But Prime Minister Armen Darpinian objected to the bill on VAT, arguing that it would cut this year's projected budget revenues. Under the Armenian constitution, the government may seek a vote of no confidence if the parliament passes a law that the cabinet considers unacceptable. The failure of such a vote automatically overturns the law passed by the legislature. LF
 TAJIK PARLIAMENT VOTES DOWN OPPOSITION FIGURESLawmakers on 21 May voted against the appointment of Tajik opposition leaders Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda and Davlat Usmon as first deputy prime minister and economics minister, respectively, RFE/RL correspondents reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the vote against Turajonzoda was 112 to 15 and against Usmon, 106 to 21. Both were appointed to those posts by presidential decree but required the parliament's approval to take office. Interfax reported that many deputies wanted to ask questions of Turajonzoda and Usmon, neither of whom were present. RFE/RL correspondents say some saw the failure of either to appear as a sign of disrespect. Another vote to confirm both candidates is expected on 22 May. Under the terms of the 1997 peace accord, 30 percent of cabinet posts are to be given to representatives of the United Tajik Opposition. BP
 TEXT OF NEW LAWS ON RELIGION PUBLISHED IN UZBEKISTANIn its 19 May issue, the Uzbek daily newspaper "Khalk Suzi" published the text of laws aimed at regulating the activities of religious groups in the country. The new legislation stipulates that religious groups must register and outlaws missionary activities aimed at converting individuals to other religions, teaching religious subjects without official permission, publishing material that advocates extremism, separatism, and chauvinism. Some clauses of the laws are vague, such as the one forbidding people to wear religious clothing in public. Clergymen from registered religious groups are exempt from that provision. BP
 KAZAKH INTERIOR MINISTER NAMES "GUILTY" PERIODICALSKazakh Interior Minister Qayirbek Suleymenov on 21 May revealed the names of some publications against which the government has initiated criminal proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 May 1998), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Suleymenov listed "Karavan," "Kazakhskaya Pravda," "Rabochaya Zhizn," and "Biz-MY" but said that others are being investigated also on charges of "igniting racial, ethnic, and religious hatred." BP
 IS ISSIK-KUL CONTAMINATED FOLLOWING TRUCK ACCIDENT?A truck carrying 20 tons of sodium cyanide drove into the Barskoon River near the Issik-Kul lake, which is Kyrgyzstan's biggest tourist attraction, RFE/RL correspondents and ITAR-TASS reported on 20 May. Reports vary as to the extent of the damage to the environment. A spokeswoman for President Askar Akayev said there were no "environmental consequences." But "Komsomolskaya Pravda" on 22 May reported that 8 tons of sodium cyanide spilled into the river. Independent ecological experts told RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek that the Kumtor gold mining operation, located in the mountains not far from Issik-Kul, refused to allow them to the site. Kumtor is a joint venture between Kyrgyzstan's state gold company, Kyrgyzaltyn, and Canada's Cameco Corp. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ORTHODOX CHURCH SLAMS MILOSEVICYugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic turned down an invitation from Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle to meet with him and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in Belgrade on 21 May. After Pavle held talks with Djukanovic and Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Svetozar Marovic, a Church spokesman said Milosevic has been arbitrary in his policy toward Montenegro and wants to destroy the federal Yugoslav state (see "End Note" below). Montenegrin Metropolitan Amfilohije and Bishop Artemije from Kosova charged Milosevic with "consciously or unconsciously helping those who want to destroy the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Artemije, who favors reconciliation with the Kosovars, added that Milosevic "has suicidal tendencies, to which he has subordinated the fate of the Serbian people." Both of Milosevic's parents committed suicide. The Church has long mistrusted Milosevic because of his communist background. PM
 U.S. WARNS MILOSEVIC OVER MONTENEGROA State Department spokesman said in Washington on 21 May that Milosevic's ouster of Prime Minister Radoje Kontic three days earlier was "of dubious legality" and was "intended to influence the 31 May parliamentary elections. Such blatant political maneuvering by the political leadership in Belgrade by Mr. Milosevic to maintain power diminishes public confidence in democratic processes. [Milosevic's actions threaten] instability not only in Montenegro but also in the rest of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." The spokesman stressed the Montenegrin vote must be free and fair and that all parties must respect its outcome. He added: "We have made it clear to Belgrade that its handling of Montenegro will affect its relations with the international community.... We regard this blatant political maneuvering as only undermining international confidence in President Milosevic's leadership." PM
 SERBIAN MIG CRASHES IN KOSOVASerbian military spokesmen said in Prishtina on 21 May that a MiG 21 crashed just east of that city due to a technical failure. The pilot ejected and landed safely. There was no independent confirmation on the nature of the crash. The Kosova Liberation Army has often claimed that it has Strela and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. And to the west of Prishtina, Reuters reported that a Russian-built Hind M-24 attack helicopter "hovered" over the Prishtina-Peja road, which has been the scene of fighting for at least two weeks. Journalists noted that half of the helicopter's rocket launching pads were empty but did not see it fire its missiles. PM
 BELGRADE CLOSES LAST BORDER CROSSING WITH ALBANIAFederal Yugoslav authorities on 21 May closed the border crossing on the road connecting Kukes and Prizren. It was the last open checkpoint on the border between Albania and Yugoslavia. On 11 May, the Yugoslav authorities closed the checkpoints between Montenegro and Albania. The remote city of Kukes is largely dependent on imports from Kosova and Serbia. About 1,000 inhabitants of Kukes earn their living in cross-border trade, mostly involving basic food stuffs, "Koha Jone" reported. The daily added that residents of Kukes have begun storing food supplies. In Prizren, shops are empty and gasoline stations closed owing to Serbia's blockade of Kosova that began earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1998). FS
 MUSLIM PARTY TO JOIN DJUKANOVIC COALITIONA spokesman for the Montenegrin branch of the Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said in Sarajevo on 21 May that the SDA will join Djukanovic's party and two- other reformist parties in a coalition following the 31 May elections. The SDA will field 35 candidates on a list headed by Sefer Medjedovic, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM
 NON-SERBIAN PARTIES BOYCOTT BANJA LUKA PARLIAMENTLegislators from the SDA and the Social Democratic Party walked out of the Republika Srpska parliament in Banja Luka on 21 May. They say they will not return until the legislature changes the constitution to allow non-Serbian parties to elect their own deputy speaker of parliament. In Sarajevo, spokesmen for the international community's Carlos Westendorp launched an open competition for a joint Bosnian national anthem. The spokesmen added that Westendorp will select the winner if the three ethnic groups cannot reach agreement among themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1998). And in New York, the UN Security Council agreed to add 30 more police to the existing contingent of 2,045 international police in Bosnia-Herzegovina. PM
 AIR LINKS BETWEEN BOSNIA, YUGOSLAVIA RESTOREDAn Air Bosnia aircraft flew from Sarajevo to Belgrade on 21 May, the first civilian airplane to fly a scheduled flight between the two capitals in six years. Air Bosnia, Montenegrin Airlines, and Serbia's JAT will fly several flights weekly to link Sarajevo and Banja Luka with Belgrade and Podgorica. PM
 CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS BANKSZlatko Matesa told the parliament on 21 May that the overall situation of the banking sector is "stable." He added that the government and the National Bank are working on a solution to the liquidity problems that some banks are facing. Newly appointed Defense Minister Andrija Hebrang told the legislature that his main task is to transform the army from being a wartime to a peacetime institution. Hebrang said he intends to complete the restructuring "within the next few months," "Novi List" wrote. PM
 SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER SURVIVES CONFIDENCE VOTEJanez Drnovsek won a vote of confidence in the parliament on 21 May. Opposition leader Janez Jansa recently demanded the vote after charging that Drnovsek knew about a 1995 secret security agreement with Israel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 1998). PM
 ALBANIAN PRESIDENT AGREES TO CHANGE ELECTORAL LAWRexhep Meidani on 21 May announced a change in the local electoral law following negotiations with opposition leader Sali Berisha, which Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Ambassador Daan Everts mediated. The Central Election Commission will henceforth make its decisions by a two-thirds, rather than simple, majority, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Berisha, for his part, agreed that his Democratic Party will field candidates in the local elections slated for 21 June, which he previously threatened to boycott (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1998). In other news, unidentified attackers ambushed and killed two policemen near Burrel. The officers were investigating organized crime in the area. FS
 NEW POLITICAL ALLIANCE FORMED IN ROMANIAThe Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSDR) and the Alliance for Romania Party (APR) on 21 May signed an accord to cooperate in the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two formations' deputy chairmen, Emil Putin and Mircea Cosea, said the accord may eventually result in the "setting up of a Social Democratic pole." They added that the alliance is open to other Social Democratic formations. PSDR chairman Sergiu Cunescu said the accord "does not affect" his party's relations with the Democratic Party, with which the PSDR ran in the 1996 elections on a joint Social Democratic Union list. But Democratic Party leader Petre Roman said he "fails to comprehend" the sense of an agreement between a party that is a member of the ruling coalition (the PSDR) and one belonging to the opposition (the APR). MS
 EU WELCOMES ROMANIAN INTENTION TO DECRIMINALIZE HOMOSEXUALITYThe EU on 21 May said it welcomes the Romanian government's "proposed amendments to the Penal Code relating to homosexuality." Last week, the government submitted to the parliament several amendments to existing legislation, and in a 20 May interview with Reuters, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica said he hopes the amendments will be passed in the current session. Stoica also said the proposed amendments do away with libel suits under which journalists have been convicted and for which the Council of Europe has criticized Romania. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CIUBUC'S CABINETAfter lengthy negotiations between Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and the parties belonging to the Alliance for Democracy and Reform, the parliament on 21 May approved the new cabinet, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The vote was 59 to 36. Ciubuc has four deputy prime ministers: Ion Sturza of For a Prosperous and Democratic Moldova Bloc (PMPD), Valentin Dolganiuc and Nicolae Andronic of the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM), and Oleg Stratulat of the Party of Democratic Forces. Nicolae Cernomaz (PMPD) remains as minister of state but Ciubuc was forced to agree to remove Interior Minister Mihai Plamadeala, who is now replaced by Victor Catan (CDM). Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru, National Security Minister Tudor Botnaru and Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat kept their portfolios. Roughly one-third of the new government's members served in Ciubuc's previous cabinet. MS
 KOSTOV LISTS PRIORITIESBulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told RFE/RL on 21 May that his government's priorities remain administrative reform and privatization. He said he had underestimated the complexity of administrative reform because of the extent of corruption and crime. Bulgaria's "immune system" must be strengthened to deal with those "diseases," he commented. Kostov said that privatization has slowed down because the government is seeking the expertise of foreign investment banks and financial consultants in order to "privatize the privatization process." This is necessary, he added, because administration personnel are "corrupt, secretive and reluctant to give up [their] power over the economy." MS
[C] END NOTE
 BRINKMANSHIP IN BELGRADEby Patrick Moore
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is on a collision course with the reformist leadership of Montenegro under President Milo Djukanovic. Milosevic's immediate goal may be to influence Montenegrin voters in the runup to the 31 May parliamentary elections, but the outcome of his actions may have longer-term repercussions.
The current political crisis began on 18 May, when federal parliamentary deputies unseated Milosevic's prime minister, Radoje Kontic. The following day, Milosevic nominated as prime minister his ally Momir Bulatovic, who is also Montenegro's former president and the political arch-enemy of Djukanovic. The legislature quickly approved Milosevic's choice on 20 May.
Kontic's grave mistake in Milosevic's eyes was his failure to help Bulatovic stay in office in Podgorica after his term expired in January. At that time Bulatovic stirred up violence and hoped to prompt Belgrade to declare a state of emergency and prevent Djukanovic's inauguration, but Kontic refused to intervene. In the end, the Montenegrin police kept Bulatovic's rowdies under control and Djukanovic took office on schedule.
Djukanovic has mounted the strongest challenge to Milosevic from within Serbia or Montenegro since the former Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991-1992. Throughout last year, then Prime Minister Djukanovic argued that Milosevic's policies were keeping Yugoslavia isolated internationally and consequently preventing the economic revival of Montenegro, which traditionally depends on tourism and shipping to earn foreign exchange. As president in 1998, Djukanovic visited Washington and other Western capitals, where he received a sympathetic hearing and offers of political and economic support in his efforts to return his country to membership in the international community.
After Milosevic launched his campaign of repression in Kosova at the end of February, Djukanovic disassociated himself from the use of violence and called for internationally mediated talks leading to autonomy for Kosova. Speaking to French journalists on 13 April in Podgorica, Djukanovic charged that "Milosevic is tragically behind the times in his assessments and is always embarking on new political failures." The Montenegrin leader dubbed Milosevic's 23 April referendum against foreign mediation in Kosova "the collective suicide...he proposes for the Serbian people." Djukanovic urged the international community to back his "efforts to form a block of reformist forces [in Yugoslavia] capable of barring the way to the damaging policies that Milosevic personifies."
The spring of 1998 thus found Milosevic confronting two crises that were largely of his own making. The first was in Kosova, where his repressive policies had radicalized much of the mainly ethnic Albanian population and driven them into the arms of the shadowy Kosova Liberation Army. His policies in Kosova also threatened to trigger the reimposition of the political isolation and economic sanctions that the international community had placed on Yugoslavia during the Croatian and Bosnian wars of 1991-1995.
The second crisis was with Montenegro, whose leadership insisted upon full equality with Serbia within the federation and resented Milosevic's attempts to increase his own powers at the expense of the republics. Djukanovic, moreover, was clear about his own policy goals and had won the support of a slight majority of the voters the previous October.
Moreover, he made it clear on 19 May that he would not allow Milosevic to provoke "Montenegro into giving up the idea of joint statehood [with Serbia] by engaging in irresponsible, uncontrolled, and unpredictable moves on the federal level," such as sacking Kontic and replacing him with Bulatovic.
With regard to his relations with Podgorica, Milosevic may have sought to bring matters to a head in the runup to parliamentary elections in Montenegro at the end of May. He may have reasoned that a bit of pressure from Belgrade might cost Djukanovic's supporters votes and bolster the chances of Bulatovic's backers. The Yugoslav president may also have felt that he needs to bring Montenegro into line as he prepares for what may prove a longer confrontation with both the ethnic Albanians and the international community over Kosova.
But that strategy could backfire on the Yugoslav president. He is himself of Montenegrin origin and has presumably made his calculations carefully; but a head-on confrontation with Djukanovic is potentially fraught with danger for Milosevic, and its outcome is not easy to predict. In Montenegrin politics, the fault lines traditionally involve relationships between clans and tensions between supporters of unity with Serbia and those who favor emphasizing a separate Montenegrin identity. But even among those who back close ties with Belgrade, there are few who would submit Montenegro to centralized rule from the capital. Djukanovic, for his part, has made it clear that he and his government will recognize neither the sacking of Kontic, the election of Bulatovic, nor the appointment of Bulatovic's government.
Meanwhile, speculation is rife in Belgrade and Podgorica as to whether Milosevic will now begin to purge other prominent officials who have defended the autonomy of their respective institutions and have not done his bidding. One such individual is General Momcilo Perisic, the chief of the General Staff, who kept the army out of the Milosevic-Djukanovic feud and has been less than enthusiastic about waging a war in Kosova. Whatever may happen in the coming days, Belgrade is clearly faced with its worst constitutional crisis since the breakup in 1991- 1992 of the Yugoslavia created by Marshal Josip Broz Tito.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty