|Sunday, 19 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 180, 98-09-17
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 180, 17 September 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION, POLICE PREPARE FOR NEXT DEMONSTRATIONAzerbaijan's opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform has presented to the Baku Mayor's Office the planned route for its protest march on 20 September, Turan reported on 16 September. The route avoids the city's main Azadlyg Square, where demonstrators were forcibly prevented by police from convening on 12 September. Interior Minister Ramil Usubov said on 16 September that the would-be participants in that demonstration had been armed with bottles and stones. He warned that police would prevent the planned 20 September march. Also on 16 September, an anonymous spokesperson for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) told Turan that official Azerbaijani media had misquoted several statements by ODIHR director Gerard Stoudman on the opposition's activities. He denied that Stoudman had said the 11 October presidential elections will be democratic. LF
 OSCE MINSK GROUP IN BAKU...The U.S., Russian, and French co- chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group held talks with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev in Baku on 15 September, ITAR- TASS reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev said that he regrets the hiatus in the settlement talks, which he said is in the interest of neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia. No further details of the talks were disclosed. LF
 ...AND YEREVANFollowing what he termed "fruitful and constructive" talks with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on 16 September, French co-chairman Georges Vaugier told journalists in Yerevan that he and his two colleagues have brought new proposals for resolving the conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. While he gave no details about those proposals, Vaugier suggested that the Azerbaijani leadership may be prepared to retreat from its previous insistence that the best it can offer Nagorno-Karabakh is the highest possible degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan. Oskanian had told journalists on 15 September that Yerevan will insist neither on independence for the disputed enclave nor on its unification with Armenia, but he excluded any subordination of Karabakh to the central Azerbaijani authorities, according to ITAR-TASS. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gasparian told RFE/RL that the Armenian side stressed Yerevan is prepared to restart negotiations without any preconditions. LF
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROPOSED AMNESTYThe Armenian parliament on 15 September approved an amnesty proposed by President Robert Kocharian to mark the seventh anniversary of Armenia's independence from the USSR, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Under the amnesty, some 920 prisoners, or 15 percent of the prison population, will be released. Another 240 will have their sentences shortened, according to Justice Minister David Harutiunian. The amnesty does not extend to persons jailed for murder, rape, or other violent crimes or to repeat offenders who have been amnestied in the past. LF
 FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTER SENTENCED FOR EMBEZZLEMENTFormer Light Industry Minister Rudolf Teymurazian was sentenced to eight years in prison on 15 September. A Yerevan court found him guilty of embezzling a $4.1 million Chinese government loan in the early 1990s, "Azg" reported The court also ruled that Teymurazian must pay $500,000 in fines. LF
 GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE SIGN BORDER PROTECTION AGREEMENTThe commanders of the Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Ukrainian border guard troops signed a cooperation agreement in Tbilisi on 16 September, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. That agreement falls within the parameters of the Economic Consultation Agreement concluded by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Georgian Border Guard Commander Valeri Chkheidze told journalists that the Tbilisi meeting was not directed against other states, nor does the signed agreement run counter to CIS agreements on border cooperation. He added that Moldova will sign the agreement at a later date. LF
 MESKHETIANS STAGE PROTEST IN TBILISISome 40 Meskhetians on 16 September demonstrated outside the state chancellery in Tbilisi to demand a meeting with President Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. The Meskhetians have been lobbying for decades for the right to return to the villages in southwestern Georgia from where they were deported en masse to Central Asia in November 1944. At Shevardnadze's initiative, a few hundred families were repatriated in the mid-1980s. Konstantin Kokoev, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary commission for human rights, said that the implementation of a program to repatriate 5,000 Meskhetian families by 2000 has been halted because of problems in resettling and housing ethnic Georgians forced to flee conflicts elsewhere in Georgia. LF
 TAJIK OPPOSITION ASSESSES WORK OF NATIONAL RECONCILIATION COMMITTEEUnited Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri has reviewed the work of the National Reconciliation Commission since its foundation exactly one year earlier, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 September. Both the Tajik government and the opposition are represented on the commission, which was formed to monitor implementation of last year's agreement ending the civil war. Nuri noted progress in registering the opposition's armed units and integrating them into the Tajik armed forces as well as in expediting the repatriation of refugees from Afghanistan. But he blamed the Tajik leadership for failing to deliver on its commitment to reform the government and amend the constitution. On 16 September, Habib Sanginov, chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission's military sub-committee, told ITAR- TASS that the repatriation from Afghanistan of the last remaining 250 UTO fighters has been delayed for unknown reasons. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN DEBT RATING LOWEREDStandard and Poor's has lowered Kazakhstan's long-term foreign currency debt rating from B+ from BB- and its long-term local currency debt from BB+ to BB- , Bloomberg reported on 16 September. The rating agency said that the decision reflects Kazakhstan's "heightened vulnerability to an extremely negative environment," noting the slow pace of privatization, a high budget deficit, and the fact that Russia is Kazakhstan's largest trading partner. Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev has said several times over the past month that the financial crisis in Russia has had no affect whatsoever on Kazakhstan. LF
 SVERDLOVSK GOVERNOR IN BISHKEKEduard Rossel met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev in Bishkek on 16 September, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Akayev expressed support for Rossel's proposal that the 8-9 October CIS summit be held in Yekaterinburg as a gesture of moral support for embattled Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In meetings with Kyrgyz government officials on 17 September, Rossel is expected to sign several economic cooperation agreements, including one that provides for Sverdlovsk to supply Kyrgyzstan with railroad carriages, spare parts for trolley-buses, and equipment for the mining industry. Rossel has also promised to supply turbo-generators for the Bishkek heating and power plant. LF
 U.S. TO MEDIATE CASPIAN DISPUTE?U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said at an oil and gas industry congress in Houston earlier this week that Washington may offer to mediate in the dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over ownership of at least one Caspian oil field, the "Financial Times" reported on 16 September. Richardson said that he had discussed the issue of settling the dispute between Ashgabat and Baku with his Turkmen counterpart and is planning to continue that discussion during his upcoming trip to the Caspian, according to ITAR-TASS. The dispute between Baku and Ashgabat over ownership of the Kyapaz/Serdar field is a major obstacle to an agreement between all five Caspian littoral states on how to divide the sea's resources. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT TO CONSIDER LIFTING BERISHA'S IMMUNITYThe Albanian parliament announced on 16 September that it will discuss the issue of lifting former President Sali Berisha's immunity as a deputy, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Fatos Nano has accused Berisha of leading an attempt to overthrow the government and says he should be arrested. Spartak Braho, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating the case, said that Berisha will have the opportunity to appear before the full assembly and respond to the charges against him. Berisha called attempts to take legal action against opposition leaders "an act of madness." He said he does not want to "preserve any immunity" for himself "in this state without laws." Berisha repeated claims that Nano is responsible for the murder of Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 1998). PB
 NANO INSISTS ALBANIANS SUPPORT HIS GOVERNMENTAlbanian Premier Fatos Nano said on 16 September that the majority of Albanians consider his government to be "legitimate," AFP reported. Nano made his comments in response to calls from opposition leader Berisha for him to resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 1998). PB
 OPPOSITION DEFIES GOVERNMENT, HOLDS RALLYA march by several thousand supporters of the opposition, led by Berisha, in Tirana on 16 September passed without incident, AFP reported. After police prevented the demonstrators from moving to the central Skanderbeg Square, a rally was held in front of the opposition Democratic Party headquarters. As many as seven people have died and 76 have been wounded in violence on the streets of Tirana since 13 September. Berisha described the Nano government as a "dictatorship" and called for a national day of protest to be held on 18 September. PB
 THOUSANDS MORE KOSOVARS FLEE SERBIAN ATTACKSSeveral thousands of ethnic Albanians have left their homes northeast of Prishtina after the shelling of several villages by Serbian forces, AP reported on 16 September. Officials of the UN refugee agency said they saw houses burning in some of the villages. Renewed attacks in the central region of Drenica were also reported. There were no independent reports on casualties in either area. Northeast Kosova is considered to be one of the last refuges of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). PB
 HILL, TALBOTT AT NATO MEETING ON KOSOVAU.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill flew from Prishtina to Brussels on 16 September to brief NATO ambassadors on the situation in the Serbian province, Reuters reported. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott also attended the meeting. Hill, Washington's top envoy for Kosova, told officials that the continued military action by Serbian forces is complicating his efforts to forge a political accord aimed at ending the violence and allowing Kosova some form of interim autonomy. The UCK condemned Hill's attempts to secure the interim accord, saying it considers such an agreement "national treason." In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook ordered an immediate ban on Yugoslav airline flights to Britain, citing the "sharply deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Kosova. The U.K. had previously said it could not join an EU ban on such flights. PB
 HARD-LINE SERBIAN PARTIES DEMAND RELEASE OF PRELIMINARY RESULTSThe Bosnian Serb Radical Party and the Serbian Radical Party released a joint statement on 16 September calling on the OSCE to issue the preliminary results of the Bosnian general elections, Beta reported. "The results are known but [the] OSCE is silent," said the statement. The previous day, the OSCE canceled the planned release of preliminary results. OSCE spokeswoman Nicole Szulc said "the people have spoken in this country. Bosnia and the OSCE will respect what they said--regardless of what they said." She said final results will be issued in four to seven days. Several observers are predicting victories for hard-line candidates contesting many of the key posts. PB
 HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CONDEMNS MONTENEGROThe U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has criticized the Montenegrin government for not allowing ethnic Albanian refugees to remain in Montenegro, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 16 September. The organization said the closing of Montenegrin borders to the refugees in effect trapped them. She also condemned the expulsion of some 3,200 ethnic Albanians to Albania. In Sarajevo, the UNHCR said that about 3,000 refugees from Kosova have been registered and are being cared for in Bosnia- Herzegovina. A spokesman said that as many as 15,000 Kosovar Albanians have fled to Bosnia but that not all have registered with the authorities. PB
 OSCE OFFICIAL PRAISES, ENCOURAGES CROATIATim Guldimann, the head of the OSCE mission in Croatia, said on 16 September that Zagreb had gained "positive momentum" both in its political development and in its cooperation with the international community, AP reported. Guldimann welcomed the steady return of Serbs to Croatia though he said the flow could be increased. He also said there is a severe need on the part of the government to reform state-controlled television and to rectify the parts of electoral legislation that favor the ruling party. Also in Zagreb, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman awarded former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the Grand Order of King Dmitar Zvonimir for her contributions in helping secure the "establishment of a free and independent...Croatian state." PB
 ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON MINORITY IN UKRAINEAndrei Plesu on 16 September appealed to journalists to display more "seriousness and responsibility" when reporting on the situation of the Romanian minority in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Referring to the campaign in the media on alleged infringements of that minority's rights, Plesu said reports are often "exaggerated, based on insufficient evidence, and even groundless." He said that the Romanian minority in Ukraine is "unfortunately divided into numerous rival factions" and that it was one of those groups that proposed changing the official designation of its language from "Romanian" to "Moldovan." The Ukrainian authorities, he noted, have not acted on that proposal. In other news, Valeriu Tabara, leader of the nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity, said on 16 September that Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban must be declared "persona non grata" in Romania for allegedly backing demands for Szekler autonomy in Transylvania. MS
 ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER STILL OPPOSED TO HELICOPTER DEALDaniel Daianu on 16 September said that his opposition to the deal with Bell Helicopters Textron is "unchanged." Daianu said the company's readiness to accept part of the payment in Romanian currency "does not reduce the deal's costs," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In other news, Romania on 16 September joined the EU boycott on flights to and from Yugoslavia. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT BUREAU REJECTS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTIONThe Permanent Bureau of the Moldovan parliament on 16 September voted against placing the no-confidence motion submitted by the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) on the legislature's agenda, the independent Flux agency reported. PCM deputy Viktor Zlachevsky said the decision was "arbitrary," as the initiative had met all the constitutional provisions on initiating a no-confidence motion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1998). MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN BULGARIAPetru Lucinschi met with Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski, and parliamentary chairman Yordan Sokolov in Sofia on 16 September, the independent Moldovan Infotag agency reported. The previous day, Lucinschi and President Petar Stoyanov signed agreements on avoiding double taxation as well as on cooperation in transportation, fighting organized crime, terrorism prevention. MS
 FIRST TRANSPORT OF KOZLODUY NUCLEAR WASTE LEAVES BULGARIAThe first train carrying nuclear waste from the Kozloduy plant left Bulgaria on 16 September, Infotag reported. The cargo will be transferred to a special vessel on the River Danube and will transit Moldovan and Ukrainian territory en route to Russia. The four countries had agreed to the transit in agreements signed several months ago. The Moldovan parliament approved the transit after an acrimonious debate last month. In other news, the Bulgarian parliament on 16 September approved an article in a draft law that would ban tobacco advertising from radio and television and through sponsorship of televised sports events. The ban is part of a law restricting the advertising of addictive substances, including alcohol, which the parliament expects to finalize later this year, AP reported.
[C] END NOTE
 MACEDONIAN ECONOMIC RECOVERY IMPERILED BY INTERNATIONAL CRISESMichael Wyzan
This year has finally seen an invigorated Macedonian economy, with industrial production up by 9.3 percent during January-July relative to the same period in 1997, and gross domestic product (GDP) projected to rise by 5 percent this year. Such rapid growth follows an unusually prolonged stagnation. GDP declined from independence in 1991 through 1995, before rising by only 0.8 percent in 1996 and 1.5 percent in 1997. At the end of last year, GDP was less than 73 percent of the 1990 level.
Inflation is virtually nonexistent, with retail prices rising by a mere 0.85 percent in the year to August 1998, far below the 4.6 percent achieved in 1997 and the 3 percent projected for 1998 (both figures for December-to- December). The money supply, broadly defined, grew by 21 percent in the year to March 1998, after falling by 1.4 percent in the preceding 12 months. The combination of faster money growth and slower inflation is a good sign, showing that Macedonians are increasingly willing to hold onto denars.
The government budget remains nearly balanced. The government attributes this year's strong revenue performance to the improved economy, a reduction in tax rates (which has decreased the incentive for tax evasion), and improved tax administration.
The economic upturn is one of the reasons for a widening of the trade deficit from $147 million in the first half of 1997 to $260 million in January-June 1998: imports rose from $723 million to $890 million over this period, while exports increased only from $576 million to $630 million.
This trend is worth watching, since it may suggest a growing current account deficit, which was $277 million, a relatively high 7.3 percent of GDP, in 1997. However, the IMF argues that the current account imbalance is overstated because of under- reporting of remittances from abroad.
One sector of the economy that, at least as of the end of 1997, shows no signs of improvement is the labor market. Unemployment rose from 175,526 in November 1993 to 257,666 in December 1997. A labor force survey in April 1997 found a staggering 36 percent unemployment rate.
This year, the government has yet to publish unemployment data, although the MILS news agency has reported a figure of 268,900 for March. Considerable publicity has been given to a 1997 law on employment creation, which went into effect on 1 January. That law, among other things, exempts employers from paying social insurance contributions for new workers hired.
The IMF's executive board approved in mid-June release of the second annual loan (worth $24 million) under a three-year, $73.2 million facility agreed to in November 1996. The fund noted the progress made on macroeconomic stabilization but stressed the need to promote share trading and encourage ownership of enterprises by outsiders, tighten prudential regulation of banks, introduce a value-added tax, remove barriers to trade and foreign investment, and increase social assistance payments and better target them at the needy.
Business circles are less happy with the situation than the IMF, concerned about the high level of enterprise illiquidity, which they blame on the high interest rates charged by banks. The average rate charged on bank credits in 1997 was 21.4 percent, while inflation was in the low single digits. The national bank has kept rates high in order to defend the denar's fixing to the German mark and encourage capital inflows.
The debate in Macedonia about whether another devaluation of the denar is necessary (the national currency was devalued by 14 percent against the German mark in July 1997) will be reinvigorated by the first half's foreign trade figures and by the reverberations of the crises in Russia and East Asia. Further, the Chamber of Commerce is asking for antidumping measures to protect the economy from cheap imports from countries whose exchange rates have plummeted.
Macedonia's newfound economic dynamism is fragile for reasons beyond macroeconomics and international finance. General elections are scheduled for 18 October, with polls putting the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and its coalition partners well ahead of the Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). The formerly communist SDSM has ruled Macedonia in coalition with other parties, including one representing ethnic Albanians, since independence.
The SDSM's economic policy is highly regarded--at least by the IMF--and has been implemented by a stable group of technocrats, some of whom are ethnic Albanian, including Finance Minister Taki Fiti. A government led by the VMRO-DPMNE would mean wholesale personnel changes, bringing in inexperienced officials and probably ending the practice of awarding ministries to ethnic Albanians. With the turmoil in Kosova continuing, and the Kosova Liberation Army putting down deeper roots in Macedonia, this is the most alarming prospect of all.
The author is a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty