|Sunday, 26 May 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 171, 98-09-04
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 171, 4 September 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 AKAYEV SETS DATE FOR KYRGYZ REFERENDUM...Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev on 3 September announced that a referendum on amendments to the country's constitution will be held in mid-October, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Akayev said the amendments will be put to a public debate until 5 October. That statement has annoyed parliamentary deputies, who were not offered the opportunity to review the proposed amendments before the announcement of the referendum. BP
 ...EXPLAINS REASON FOR VOTEAlso on 3 September, Akayev held a press conference to explain his motives for holding the referendum, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The president said the parliament is not fulfilling its duties and is dragging its feet on passing several essential laws. He mentioned private land ownership as one area where the parliament has failed to make progress. Turning to the subject of the CIS, Akayev said member countries need to support President Boris Yeltsin and Russia and noted that undermining the legitimacy of the Russian president could precipitate the collapse of the CIS and ruin its members' economies. BP
 HAS KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN BEGUN?There is growing speculation in Kazakhstan that President Nursultan Nazarbayev has already begun his presidential campaign, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 3 September. Nazarbayev has made several tours of the country's regions recently, sparking rumors in the local press that he is seeking to get a head start and will bring forward the presidential election, currently scheduled to take place in 2000. Kazakh economists are forecasting that an economic crisis in Kazakhstan will peak toward the end of next year. In order to avoid holding elections when his popularity could be diminishing, Nazarbayev may opt to hold early elections. Opposition parties are reportedly now gravitating to former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin as an alternative presidential candidate to Nazarbayev. BP
 TURKEY OFFER SUPPORT TO CIS CENTRAL ASIAN STATESThe Turkish Deputy Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik, said in Bishkek on 3 September that Ankara will support the CIS Central Asian states against the threat of Afghanistan's Taliban movement, the Anatolia news agency reported. According to ITAR-TASS the same day, Irtemcelik, who is on a tour of the CIS Central Asian states, will convey an offer by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel to hold a presidential summit on Afghanistan. Demirel's letter to the CIS Central Asian presidents notes that Ankara shares their concern and can no longer sit on the sidelines as an observer. Offers to hold a conference on the Afghan situation have been made many times by Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and Japan, but without success. BP
 ARMENIAN DRAM BOUNCES BACKThe national currency regained ground on Armenian financial markets on 3 September after losing some 4 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar the previous day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But in an interview with "Yerkir" on 3 September, Tigran Jrbashian of the Sed Marsed consulting company downplayed Armenia's improved macroeconomic performance in 1998. Arguing that the present exchange rate of the dram is "artificial," he predicted that it will fall in value in the coming months and that "signs of a serious crisis" will emerge in October or November. LF
 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF IN AZERBAIJANIn his initial campaign TV broadcast, Independent Azerbaijan Party chairman Nizami Suleimanov called upon incumbent President Heidar Aliev to retire from politics, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported on 3 September. Suleimanov said that if he wins the 11 October presidential poll, he will form a coalition government that includes the opposition Musavat, Azerbaijan Democratic, and Azerbaijan Popular Front parties and will raise the salaries of state sector employees up to tenfold. Communist Party candidate Firuddin Gasanov offered a program of "progressive socialism" similar to the programs of the Chinese, French, Italian, and Russian Communist Parties. Gasanov promised quick solutions to social problems, including a return to free education and health care, and a strong army. Six candidates, including Aliev, will contend the poll. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, IRAN DISCUSS COOPERATION IN OIL SECTORPresident Aliev on 2 September met with Ali Akbar Hashimi, director-general of Iran's Oil Industries Engineering and Construction Company, Turan reported the following day. That company has 10 percent stakes in the consortia formed to exploit the Shah-Deniz and the Lenkoran-Deniz off-shore Caspian oil fields. Hashimi indicated that his company is keen to expand its activities in Azerbaijan and enter the petrochemical and gas sectors. Natik Aliev, president of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR, whose dismissal on corruption charges was rumored last week to be imminent, also attended the talks. LF
 ABKHAZIA SIGNALS INTEREST IN OIL PIPELINEThe Abkhaz government delegation to the Coordinating Council, meeting in Sukhumi on 2 September, indicated that the breakaway republic's leadership is interested in the proposed construction of an oil export pipeline linking Russia's Black Sea terminal of Novorossiisk with the Georgian port of Supsa (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 1, 3 March 1998), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 September. The Abkhaz say that construction of the pipeline would contribute substantially to restoring the region's economy and reducing unemployment. But Georgian presidential adviser Levan Aleksidze told Interfax on 3 September that talks on economic reconstruction in Abkhazia should be shelved until the ethnic Georgians forced to flee fighting in Abkhazia in 1992-1993 and/or in May 1998 have been allowed to return to their homes. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 SERBS POUND VILLAGES NEAR PRIZRENSerbian forces continued to shell ethnic Albanian villages near Prizren, in southwest Kosova, on 3 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1998), Reuters reported. The firing could be heard in Prizren, and several of the villages were "totally destroyed," Kosovar sources added. Serbian sources said that 20 members of the paramilitary police died in the fighting, while Kosovar sources put the total at seven. The Serbian sources added that the police found a "modern battlefield clinic" for treating wounded guerrillas in one village. Police barred journalists from leaving Prizren for the surrounding countryside to investigate conflicting reports on the fighting. A policeman at a checkpoint told the journalists: "We have some business there and it is not safe to go." An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Prishtina that there was also fighting along the Gjakova- Klina road in an area crowded with refugees. PM
 ALBRIGHT, SCHUESSEL GUARDEDLY OPTIMISTIC ON AUTONOMY DEALU.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Vienna on 3 September that the recent tentative agreement between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova is a "good procedural step forward" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1998). She added that "obviously there is a long way to go" until the two sides reach a settlement, and "we have also said that if force is necessary, the nations that agree [to that step] must be ready to act." Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, who is the current EU chair, spoke cautiously about the tentative agreement: "I don't think that the solution is there.... It is a small hope but it is part of a diplomatic process." PM
 NATO TO WORK WITH SERBIAN SECURITY FORCES?"The Guardian" reports from Brussels on 4 September that NATO has agreed to offer logistical support for international relief efforts in Kosova that will depend on cooperation with Serbian forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1998). The London-based daily added: "In effect, the proposal makes NATO a partner in the Serbian scheme for four humanitarian aid centers...to be run by non- governmental organizations and the [UN] and to be provided with 'security' by Serb troops." Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Morton Abramowitz, who is a spokesman for the non- governmental International Crisis Group, said that "it's crazy to think that Kosovar women and children will put themselves under the protection of Serbian forces who have been shooting their husbands and fathers." The daily added that some "NATO planners...are privately frustrated at the refusal of NATO governments to take a decision to stop Serb aggression." PM
 ALBANIA REPORTS 41 INCIDENTS AT KOSOVA BORDER WITHIN SIX MONTHSInterior Ministry spokesman Artan Bizhga told Reuters in Tirana on 3 September that federal Yugoslav forces have committed 41 border violations from the Kosova side of the border since March. The incidents include the firing of shells into Albania, sniping by soldiers and civilians, violations of Albanian airspace by helicopters, and the entering of Albania by ground forces. Bizhga stressed that Albanian officials have repeatedly called meetings of the joint border commission but that the Yugoslav representatives often failed to attend. The previous day, NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana reassured Prime Minister Fatos Nano by telephone from Brussels that "NATO continues to be politically committed to helping Albania develop normally as a factor of stability in the region." FS
 SESELJ AGAINST INTERNATIONAL ROLE IN INVESTIGATING WAR CRIMESSerbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 3 September that the question of investigating atrocities is not the business of international organizations. He added that "only state organs" have the right to carry out such missions, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meanwhile in Washington, a State Department spokesman said in a statement that Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, who is Washington's top human rights envoy, and former Senator Bob Dole, who chairs the International Commission on Missing Persons, will arrive in Kosova on 4 September to investigate "credible reports of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law." PM
 NO ELECTION DEBATE FOR IZETBEGOVICA spokesman for the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said in Sarajevo on 3 September that Alija Izetbegovic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency, will not take part in any debates in the run-up to the 12- 13 September general elections. The spokesman added that Izetbegovic will give interviews in the course of the next week to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service and to one other station. The president feels that his views are well enough known that he does not need to engage in additional public discussions, the spokesman concluded. "Oslobodjenje" reported that plans for a televised debate of Muslim candidates on 3 September collapsed because Izetbegovic and a minor candidate refused to take part and because Fikret Abdic, the king-pin of the Bihac pocket region, did not confirm on time that he would participate. Muhamed Filipovic of the Liberal Bosnjak Organization said that Izetbegovic's refusal is an admission of weakness. PM
 ZUBAK URGES TOUGHNESS WITH NATIONALISTSKresimir Zubak, who is the Croatian member of the joint presidency and who has broken with his nationalist former allies, said in Sarajevo on 3 September that the international community has not done enough to "help create a level playing field" for the non-nationalist candidates, Reuters reported. He charged that his Croatian nationalist opponents tear up his posters, try to beat up or intimidate his supporters, and attempt to break up his rallies. He also blasted Croatian Television for its "quite unbelievable coverage" of his New Croatian Initiative. PM
 AGREEMENT ON PLOCE, NEUM IN THE OFFING?Jacques Klein, who is a deputy of the international community's Carlos Westendorp, said in Dubrovnik on 3 September that Bosnian and Croatian delegations agreed on a framework in which to solve a key problem that has bedeviled their relations since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. He said that talks aimed at working out the details will take place in Sarajevo the following day. At issue are how to give Bosnia access to the Adriatic through Croatia's port at Ploce and how to provide Croatia with transit rights through Neum, which is a tiny Bosnian fishing village on the Adriatic. Meanwhile in Zagreb, a county court indicted Neven Barac, the former head of the Dubrovacka Banka, in conjunction with his role in Croatia's biggest-ever banking scandal. PM
 SOUTHERN ALBANIAN GUNMEN 'DISAPPEAR'Gunmen who injured eight policemen in the southern village of Lazarat on 2 September had "disappeared" by the following day, police spokesmen said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1998). Local residents told Reuters that the gunmen had withdrawn into the mountains. Police declined to say if they plan a search operation. The village itself appears to be "back to normal," and traffic on Albania's main north-south road has resumed. Edmond Stepa, who is nearby Gjirokastra's police chief, said that police have made no arrests. Elsewhere, police in Lezha arrested two Democratic Party members on 3 September on suspicion of having planted a bomb at the local Socialist Party headquarters the previous night. FS
 ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY TO LEAVE ROMANIAN COALITION?Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) chairman Bela Marko told journalists on 3 September that the UDMR demands from its ruling coalition partners "a clear-cut answer" on their commitment to cooperation with the UDMR and to minority rights. Responding to the vote by the Chamber of Deputies' Education Commission the previous day, Marko said that not only opposition members but also members of the ruling coalition, including Education Minister Andrei Marga, are responsible for "anti-minority instigations." He said that "from now on," the UDMR will act "in conformity with our own program and the interests of our electors." UDMR deputies boycotted debates in the Chamber of Deputies on 3 September, and Marko said the party's ministers will vote against envisaged budget cuts, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 MODERATE UDMR LEADER PLEDGES TO RESIGNGyorgy Tokay, who as head of the Department for National Minorities has ministerial rank, said on 3 September that he will resign from the cabinet if a Hungarian-language state university is not set up. Tokay is considered to be the most prominent leader of the UDMR's "moderate faction." But the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Education Commission, Anghel Stanciu, said in a letter to Tokay the same day that the government commission studying ways to set up such a university must be disbanded in the wake of the vote by the Education Commission. The ruling coalition party leaders are meeting with President Emil Constantinescu on 4 September, and the UDMR's complaints are on the meeting's agenda. MS
 MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT LAWS ON LOCAL ADMINISTRATIONThe cabinet on 2 September approved two draft laws providing for a reform of the country's local administration. The laws stipulate that the number of districts will be reduced to 9 from the present 36 and that local administration staff will be cut by some 20-30 percent, saving some 12 million lei ($2.5 million), Infotag reported on 2 September. The drafts make no reference to the Transdniester, but the agency says it is assumed that if the separatist region has an autonomous status, Tiraspol and Bendery-Tighina will have the status of a municipality. Last year, the parliament refused to approve earlier versions of the drafts and returned them to the government for "improvement." MS
[C] END NOTE
 ALBANIAN OPPOSITION ON COLLISION COURSE WITH GOVERNMENTBy Fabian Schmidt
Just one year or so after taking office, Albania's Socialist-dominated government is facing a strong challenge from the opposition Democratic Party. Former President and opposition leader Sali Berisha has made it clear recently that he wants to bring down the government, calling it "communist" and accusing Prime Minister Fatos Nano of politically persecuting the Democrats. This development follows on the heels of the arrest last month of six former high-ranking officials, including three members of Berisha's government.
Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi has charged those six officials with crimes against humanity during last year's widespread unrest, which began in southern Albania and led to the fall of Berisha's government. He says he has documents signed by the defendants that prove they ordered the use of chemical weapons and air attacks against rebellious civilians in the south. Berisha, however, accused Nano of having fabricated the charges and of being behind the arrests. Nano, for his part, claims he learned about the arrests only after they had taken place.
This latest conflict sheds light on the most problematic aspect of Albania's transformation into a state based on the rule of law, namely the politicization of state institutions, particularly the judiciary. Few Albanians trust the country's justice system, which is considered corrupt and politically biased. A recent survey conducted by the World Bank indicates that many judges, prosecutors, and lawyers are more than willing to accept bribes.
The Socialists and its coalition allies have repeatedly accused Berisha of not having respected the independence of the judiciary when he was in office. Therefore, they made reform of the judiciary one of their priorities after winning the elections in July 1997. That reform also meant the sacking of several appointees of Berisha's administration, including those whose professional credentials were questionable, having completed only crash courses organized by Berisha's government with the aim of quickly training post-communist judges and lawyers. Nonetheless, many employees of the current judiciary are former communist-era officials, and the Democrats accuse the Socialists of returning former communists to key positions.
At the same time, the current government will most likely allow the trial against the six former officials to proceed. Any government attempt to have the charges thrown out would doubtless be interpreted as a sign of weakness by the opposition. And such an attempt would also undermine the independence of the judiciary, which the government has pledged to respect, and provide proof that the cabinet is indeed willing and able to interfere with the work of the courts.
The conflict also shows that the Democrats have not yet fully accepted the role of an opposition party respecting a democratic parliamentary system. Since losing power, they have repeatedly boycotted the legislature, as did the Socialists under the previous, Democratic-led government. Even though the Council of Europe and the OSCE have urged the Democrats to take their parliamentary duties seriously, they have not halted their boycotts. Instead, they have tried in vain to blackmail the government into accepting political compromises over various issues, using their presence at, or absence from, the legislature as a political lever.
In a bid to get the Democrats back to the parliament, OSCE representatives in Tirana have offered to mediate between the government and the opposition and have begun regularly observing parliamentary proceedings. Now the OSCE has also pledged to monitor the trial of the six former officials in order to convince the Democrats that the proceeding will be fair and free from political interference.
But the Democrats are unlikely to accept that offer and return to the parliament once and for all. Rather, their strategy seems to be one of confrontation. Berisha called on his supporters last month "to use all means" to overthrow the government. Since then, he has organized two demonstrations, despite a police ban, and intends to continue to hold demonstrations until the government steps down.
Berisha's strategy of destabilization seems calculated to make the conflict in neighboring Kosova work in his favor. He has repeatedly accused the government of high treason, pointing to its moderate Kosova policy, which does not openly advocate independence for the region. And he is fully aware that because of that policy, most Kosovars and many northern Albanians do not trust Nano's government.
Moreover, Berisha is trying to profit politically from still widespread lawlessness. Earlier this week, his party issued a statement claiming that a police operation against armed robbers from the Democrats' southern stronghold of Lazarat constituted "communist-style persecution" of the villagers. The robbers, for their part, had stopped and looted 18 trucks on the country's main north-south road.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty