|Friday, 6 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 100, 98-05-27
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 100, 27 May 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ABKHAZ EXPEL GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS FROM GALIAbkhaz forces have established control over the 12- kilometer security zone on the Abkhaz side of the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, expelling the last remaining Georgian guerrillas after overnight fighting, AFP reported on 27 May. The Abkhaz have reportedly also taken control of the Inguri hydroelectric power station close to the border. LF
 GEORGIAN OFFICIALS LOOK FOR SCAPEGOAT FOR GALI DEBACLE...Former Georgian Security Minister Shota Kviraya has accused unnamed foreign intelligence services of instigating Georgian guerrillas to undertake the attack that triggered the fighting, Caucasus Press reported on 27 May. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Russia and the UN have been aware for several years that the Georgian government is sponsoring the guerrillas, who have bases in western Georgia, but have not formally raised the issue with Tbilisi. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze claimed that "certain Georgian forces" had gone to Gali Raion to "fan tensions" that led to the conflict. It is unclear whether Lortkipanizde was alluding to the so- called Abkhaz parliament in exile, which is composed of ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991. Those deputies had planned to convene in western Georgia in late May. LF
 ...SLAM RUSSIAN, UN TROOPSGeorgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili on 26 May said that the 1, 500-man predominantly Russian CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the internal border acted "completely irresponsibly and took no measures to stop the violence," Reuters reported. Parliamentary Defense Committee chairman Revaz Adamia said the Russian troops did nothing to prevent the Abkhaz from bringing heavy artillery into the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, told Caucasus Press that the UN observer force on the border is exclusively engaged in compiling reports to send to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. LF
 GEORGIA CANCELS INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONSMost events planned to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Georgia's independence were canceled, Caucasus Press reported on 26 May. The official reason was the ongoing hostilities in Gali, but Interfax reported that rumors were circulating in Tbilisi of plans to assassinate Shevardnadze during the celebrations. LF
 ARMENIAN FOREIGN DEBT INCREASINGFinance and Economy Minister Eduard Sandoyan told the parliament on 26 May that the country's external debt continues to grow and is nearing $700 million, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said 45 percent of that sum is owed to the World Bank and the IMF, $109 million to Russia, and some $52 million to EU states. Last December, Armen Darpinian, currently prime minister and at the time finance and economy minister, estimated that the country's external debt would total $668.5 million by late 1997 and reach $797.1 million by the end of this year. Sandoyan rejected allegations that external borrowing encourages embezzlement and makes Armenia politically dependent on donor states and organizations. The parliament nonetheless announced the formation of a special commission "to look into the efficiency of using international loans." LF
 WORLD BANK RELEASES AID TO TAJIK OPPOSITIONThe World Bank is to release $50,000 from a $165,000 grant to help the Tajik opposition set up medical centers and vocational training institutes, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. World Bank officials, Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Abdurahmon Azimov, and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri signed an agreement on the grant in March. BP
 U.S. EXIMBANK LENDS TURKMENISTAN $96 MILLIONTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 26 May signed an agreement with the U.S. Export-Import Bank whereby the bank will lend Turkmenistan $96 million to develop its gas industry, Interfax reported. Niyazov also signed an agreement with the bank on financing a $212 million project for developing that industry. Interfax reported that Eximbank bank is considering making loans to Turkmenistan without government guarantees. BP
 MORE PEOPLE TAKEN ILL AFTER KYRGYZ CHEMICAL SPILLOne week after a truck from the Kumtor gold mining company spilled sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River in eastern Kyrgyzstan, 475 people have become sick and sought medical treatment, Interfax reported. Of those, 68 have been kept in the hospital. Officials from the Kyrgyz government and the Kumtor company continue to say that the effects from the spill will be negligible. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 KOSOVAR-SERBIAN TALKS CANCELEDEthnic Albanian spokesmen have announced the cancellation of the next round of talks between Kosovar negotiators and their Serbian counterparts, Reuters reported on 27 May. Those talks were slated to take place in Prishtina on 29 May. The spokesmen suggested that the reason is that shadow- state President Ibrahim Rugova and his top advisers, some of whom belong to the negotiating team, will be in the U.S. on that date. On 26 May, a State Department spokesman urged the Kosovars and Serbs to make the talks a success. Many Kosovar and Albanian leaders have called for the talks to be canceled to protest the ongoing Serbian offensive in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). In Barcelona, the NATO Assembly passed a resolution on 26 May in which it condemned the Serbian offensive. Kosovar sources said in Prishtina that Serbs killed 20 ethnic Albanians in several places on 25-26 May. PM
 ALBANIA WANTS ARMED INTERVENTION IN KOSOVAThe Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Tirana on 26 May supporting President Rexhep Meidani's recent calls for foreign military intervention in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). The statement said "police and military violence by the Belgrade authorities against Albanians in Kosova has increased alarmingly in recent days.... Albania calls on the Contact Group countries and the international community to urgently intervene and implement decisions they have previously [taken] on the crisis in Kosova.... All means should be used to force Belgrade to immediately stop its violence and terror and withdraw its police and military troops from Kosova." PM
 NO AGREEMENT AT ALBANIAN-YUGOSLAV MEETINGA 26 May meeting of Albanian and federal Yugoslav border authorities at the border checkpoint between Kukes and Prizren ended without results. Albanian Commander Beqir Cena informed the Yugoslavs of five recent border incidents, including Yugoslav soldiers entering Albania, violations of air space, and shootings. His Yugoslav counterpart, Momir Zdravkovic, noted 35 cases of border violations, including entry into Kosova of "armed groups and terrorists" from Albania as well as cross-border shooting incidents. Each side rejected the other's charges, saying sufficient evidence was not given, "Koha Jone" reported. The same day, President Meidani inspected military installations in Kukes. It was the first visit of a president to the northern city since the fall of communism. And in nearby Bajram Curri, the UN opened an office to help process Kosovar refugees. FS
 SOME KOSOVAR STUDENT LEADERS STILL MISSINGThe main organization representing ethnic Albanian students in Kosova issued a statement in Prishtina on 26 May informing that a Prizren court handed down a 30-days jail sentence to the three women who were among the student leaders recently arrested in that city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1998). There is no information on the whereabouts of the four male student leaders. The statement added that the student organization understands that the four men will be charged with "preparing for terrorism" because they organized a public first-aid course. PM
 SERBIA ENDS UNIVERSITY AUTONOMYThe Serbian parliament on 26 May passed a law empowering the government to appoint the rectors and deacons of the universities. Under previous legislation, faculty members elected persons to those positions. Outside the parliament building, police used force to break up a demonstration by some 1,000 students and faculty against the new law. Police injured 10 students and arrested three, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Student spokesmen said more protests are slated to take place in Belgrade, Nis, and Novi Sad on 27 March. The demonstrators received a telegram of support from Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who expressed his "complete solidarity with their just and democratic struggle," "Nasa Borba" wrote. PM
 CROATIA SEEKS TO AVOID SANCTIONSForeign Minister Mate Granic said in Zagreb on 26 May that the government will draft a comprehensive plan dealing with refugee return by 20 June. The authorities hope that their plan will be acceptable to the international community, which has threatened Croatia with sanctions if it does not do more to facilitate the return of Serbian refugees, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Granic denied earlier reports that Croatia plans to repatriate some 80,000 ethnic Croats from Germany this year. He said it would be impossible to integrate so many people in such a short period. President Franjo Tudjman has frequently said he wants Croats living abroad to come home and repopulate areas where Serbs formerly lived. The Croatian economy, however, depends to a large extent on the remittances of emigrants. PM
 ALBANIAN TEACHERS GO ON STRIKEElementary and secondary school teachers throughout Albania went on strike on 26 May to protest difficult living and working conditions. The strike was organized by the Independent Teachers Trade Unions and involved up to 90 percent of teachers in Tirana and other cities. The teachers' main demand is a 15 percent pay increase to offset inflation. Teachers receive monthly salaries of between $45 and $65. The Education Ministry declared the strike illegal, arguing that the teachers did not give the ministry enough time to respond to their demands, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. FS
 ALBANIA'S CEKA PROPOSES LOTTERY TO DISARM POPULATION...Neritan Ceka, head of the parliamentary Commission on Public Order, proposed on 26 May that those voluntarily turning in illegal weapons be given lottery tickets with numbers corresponding to the weapons' serial numbers. After a fixed date, the government would hold a draw and award prizes, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. Lawmakers are currently drawing up a draft law that is aimed at disarming the population and will include an amnesty. There are some 500,000 illegal arms in private hands in Albania. Meanwhile in New York, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the UN will send an expert team to Albania in early June to prepare a program aimed at encouraging civilians to turn in illegal weapons. FS
 ...DEMANDS FINANCE MINISTER'S RESIGNATIONCeka also said that the government has lost some $100 million from untaxed cigarette imports since the summer of 1997. Ceka argued that Finance Minister Arben Malaj was to blame for the customs evasion and demanded his resignation. Malaj countered that Ceka himself was in charge of guarding Albania's coast as interior minister until April 1998, together with former Defense Minister Sabit Brokaj, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. FS
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS DRAFT BUDGETLawmakers on 26 May adopted a draft 1998 budget, which was delayed by the recent government crisis, AFP reported. The approval of the draft will allow the IMF to release credits it has been withholding. The proposed budget allows for 45 percent inflation and a budget deficit of 3.6 percent of GDP. It foresees an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent, up from 8.8 percent last year. Also on 26 May, U.S. Ambassador to Romania James Rosapepe said that it is not a question of "if" but "when" Bucharest will be invited to join NATO, Reuters reported. He added that the government should be "worrying less and reforming more." PB
 DAEWOO TAKES OVER MAJORITY STAKE IN ROMANIAN CARMAKERThe South Korean carmaker Daewoo has acquired a 51 percent stake in Romania's Mecatim auto manufacturer for an undisclosed sum, AFP reported on 25 May. Mecatim's chief executive said Daewoo plans to invest $100 million in the plant, which will produce car equipment such as air-conditioning systems and brakes. The Korean company also plans to create 400 new jobs at the plant. In 1994, Daewoo acquired a 51 percent stake in the Rodae car plant. MS
 TIRASPOL SHUTS DOWN PRIVATE NEWSPAPERThe State Committee for Information in the separatist Transdniester region shut down the newspaper "Novaya Gazeta" on 26 May, Infotag reported. Andrei Safonov, a founder of the paper and the leader of the United Labor Party of Moldova, said the decision is "purely a political act." He noted that the newspaper's "rejection of political extremism" and "its sober" commentary annoyed the Transdniester government. PB
[C] END NOTE
 MOSCOW'S JOB-CRISIS MANAGEMENTby Floriana Fossato
Over the past several days, Russia's new government had the opportunity to convince angry coal miners, state- sector employees, and increasingly anxious Western investors and domestic businessmen of its ability to govern. However, economic analysts argue that the government will have to show huge political and economic initiative if it wants to achieve some much-needed results.
Following two days of intense negotiations with top government officials, frustrated coal miners on 25 May lifted a 10-day blockade of the Trans- Siberian and North Caucasus railroads. The national protest, which came on the heels of a week of wildcat protests, immobilized more than 600 freight and passenger trains across Russia, causing losses to the railroads that the Transport Ministry estimated at some $29 million. The blockades also hurt many industries, which were unable to transport their goods to markets or obtain vital supplies.
The temporary resolution of the issue came as a surprise to many, as it followed a first round of unsuccessful negotiations in the Siberian region of Kemerovo, in the southern Rostov region, and in the northern Vorkuta region, conducted by Deputy Prime Ministers Oleg Sysuev and Boris Nemtsov and by Economics Minister Yakov Urinson, respectively.
In his 22 May radio address, President Boris Yeltsin raised tensions as he told strikers their protest was "unreasonable" and that they were making a difficult situation worse. Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov quoted the president as saying that the miners had "gone too far," and that Yeltsin believed that coal miners "have not yet learned to work in a market economy."
The immediate reaction of the miners, who have not received pay in months and, in some cases, not in the last two years, was to vow to block the railroads until all wages arrears had been paid. However, after intense negotiations, the miners agreed to end the blockade--for the time being.
Key rail lines to Eastern and Southern Russia have been re-opened. Officials in Kemerovo said on 25 May that it will take about a week for trains on the Trans-Siberian railway to get back on schedule. Only miners in the Arctic Komi Republic continued to prevent freight trains from using the Moscow-Vorkuta railroad on 25 May, but they lifted their blockade the following day.
Speaking after his return to Moscow from Rostov, Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov commented "many words have been said in the past, but now there is time only for decisive action." He said that "the government will immediately act to create new jobs for workers made redundant, when financially ailing mines are closed down." But, he added, mines will be closed only in those regions where enough money is found to create new work places and a proper social safety net, including the possibility of relocating and employment in different regions for miners who lose their jobs.
Closing down Russia's unprofitable mines is a measure international financial institutions favor, but which previous governments have been hesitant to implement. Moscow's inability to tackle more resolutely the issue of restructuring the coal industry has led to the spiraling wage arrears problem. Most of the unpaid wages are not owed by the state but directly by the mines, a great number of which have been privatized. However, company heads say they cannot pay their workers because they are not being paid by the government and private customers who buy the coal.
Despite their readiness to appease the miners, neither Sysuev nor Nemtsov contradicted Yeltsin and Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who last week had insisted that the government would not give in to mounting demands to loosen its austere monetary policy to pay all wage arrears to miners. The two ministers explained that there would be no printing of money and no re- distribution of funds between regions or between different sectors of the economy. Kirienko, for his part, commented that the new government "is responsible not only for putting out today's fire but also for the future of the country's economy as a whole."
Most analysts suggest that the government's performance during the crisis was effective. Nikolai Petrov, a senior associate with the Carnegie Center in Moscow, told RFE/RL that the government "has dealt rather well with this crisis..., despite subjective attempts by other people to exploit the outcome of the situation for their ends." According to Petrov, trade union activists in the regions played a much more positive role in the negotiations than national leaders. The strike showed, as other protest actions have shown, that "big trade unions, keeping their Soviet-style traditions and their immense properties, don't have real influence over the workers, who are driven mainly by anger and frustration," Petrov commented.
Rory McFarquhar, an analyst with the Russian- European Centre for Economic Policy, told RFE/RL that the government had "successfully defended the budget vis-a- vis the miners' demands." However, he said "the overall economic situation is very precarious, as crises seem to feed on themselves." According to McFarquhar, "objectively, Russia's economic situation was worse in the past two years, but subjectively, for a confluence of difficult circumstances, the new government is in a situation where many people, including concerned investors and financial operators, have lost their previous confidence and perceive [the situation] as being worse now."
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty