|Tuesday, 15 October 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 25, 99-02-08
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 25, 8 February 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL ELECTION LAWDeputies approved the new election code in the third and final reading on 5 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition has repeatedly sought to increase the number of mandates allocated under the proportional system from the present 56 (out of a total of 131), arguing that the predominantly single-mandate constituencies in conducive to vote-rigging. Addressing tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in Yerevan later the same day, leading members of the opposition National Democratic Union, including chairman Vazgen Manukian, urged voters to prevent irregularities during the poll, tentatively scheduled for mid-May. LF
 KOCHARIAN THREATENS TO DISSOLVE PARLIAMENTSpeaking on Armenian Television on 6 February, President Robert Kocharian said he will dissolve the parliament if it continues to refuse to allow the arrest and prosecution of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian on murder charges, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. On 26 January, deputies refused to lift Siradeghian's immunity, but the former minister has since left the country. PG
 ARMENIAN MINISTER FACES LIBEL CHARGESIn what could prove a landmark case, the Yerevan newspaper "Oragir" is suing Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, a key ally of President Kocharian, for what it claims is defamation, chief editor Nikol Pashinian said on 6 February. On 30 January, Sarkisian told another newspaper that "everything published in 'Oragir' is slander." Pashinian told RFE/RL that a Yerevan court has agreed to begin hearing the case--the first of its kind in Armenia--on 16 March. No senior Armenian government official has been taken to court in Armenia. PG
 OUTMIGRATION FROM ARMENIA DETAILEDArmenian Statistics Minister Stepan Mnatsakanyan told ITAR-TASS on 6 February that some 600,000 people left his country between 1992 and 1998. As a result, Armenia's population stood at 3,798,200 on 1 January 1999. Mnatsakanyan also noted that because of a lack of funds, Yerevan has put off a census planned for later this year until 2001. PG
 AZERBAIJAN UNLIKELY TO JOIN CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATYSpeaking in Bonn on 5 February, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov said that "it is unlikely that Azerbaijan will join the CIS Collective Security Treaty," ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijan has ratified the treaty but has not deposited the necessary ratification instruments. Zulfugarov said that the primary reason for this is Armenia's membership in the security grouping. In other comments, the Azerbaijani foreign minister called for reforming the CIS so that it would reflect the interests of all its members. He added that "integration into European and Trans-Atlantic institutions is Azerbaijan's undisputed priority," noting that he will meet with the foreign ministers of Georgia and Armenia in Luxembourg before the middle of 1999. PG
 GEORGIA TO BUILD THIRD PORTState Minister Vazha Lordkipanidze told ITAR-TASS on 7 February that Tbilisi plans to build a new port at Anaklia. He said the project will be approved by the end of this year and that he hopes to attract nearly $1 billion in foreign and domestic investment. Construction is estimated to take at least seven-and-a-half years. PG
 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH COMPLAINS TO ASHGABAT OVER DETAINED WORKERThe New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Turkmen government on 5 February complaining about the treatment of one of its workers in Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The letter noted that Turkmen state security agents "detained" Aleksandr Petrov in his hotel room, "accused him of breaking the law, and held him incognito refusing to allow him to notify his colleagues...that he was being forced out of the country." It added that "Turkmenistan has an open- door policy when it comes to receiving billions of dollars in U.S. investment but slams the door on any effort to bring to light its shameful human rights record." BP
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT AMNESTIES ANOTHER 3,000 PRISONERSUnder an amnesty declared by Saparmurat Niyazov, another 3,00 prisoners were released from jail on 6 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The amnesty is the fourth declared by Niyazov since the beginning of this year. Some 17, 000 prisoners are expected to be freed or have their sentences reduced during 1999. Niyazov told a meeting of agricultural producers that the Turkmen state has "strengthened itself...in plans for developing democracy and the rights of the individual and today can allow itself to be humane in its relationship toward fellow citizens." BP
 TAJIK PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIA ONLY 'RELIABLE PARTNER'At a meeting on 6 February, Police Day in Tajikistan, Imomali Rakhmonov said Russia "is the only reliable partner and [guarantor] of stability and security in Tajikistan," ITAR- TASS reported. Rakhmonov applauded Russia's role in Tajikistan "even though somebody does not quite like it," alluding to comments made by the Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 3 February 1999). Rakhmonov also hinted that during his April visit to Moscow "very important documents for both countries" will be signed, but he did not elaborate. BP
 ...WHILE INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS FOR ALL-OUT WAR ON ORGANIZED CRIMEAt the same meeting, Tajik Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov said the police are geared to start a "total war" on criminal organizations, ITAR- TASS reported. Sharipov pointed to law-enforcement successes in 1998, saying more than 40 criminal groups were "neutralized." At the same time, he noted that the effectiveness of law-enforcement agencies remains "rather low." In 1997-1998, some 300 policemen were charged with a criminal offense and another 500 were relieved of their duties for violating the law. President Rakhmonov called on the police to step up their efforts to combat organized crime during 1999, which he called an especially important year. A referendum on changes to the constitution is planned later this year, as are parliamentary and presidential elections and the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid Dynasty--"the first Tajik state," according to Rakhmonov. BP
 NEW PARTY REGISTERED IN TAJIKISTANThe Ministry of Justice on 8 February registered the Equality and Development Party, ITAR-TASS reported. Party chairman Rakhmatullo Zoirov said his group will seek to have its own candidate in the presidential elections and to win seats in the parliamentary elections. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ALBRIGHT WARNS BOTH SIDES ON KOSOVAU.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 7 February that NATO will not limit possible air strikes against Serbian targets to those in Kosova if the Atlantic alliance deems Serbia responsible for any breakdown in the peace talks, which began in Rambouillet, France, the previous day. She added that the Kosovars "will lose the support of the international community" if they prevent the talks from succeeding. She stressed that the Kosovars cannot "operate without the international community." U.S. ground troops will go to Kosova only if fighting has stopped, she noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). Albright added that the Bosnian experience in setting withdrawal dates for peacekeepers shows that it is better to identify a series of "benchmarks" to be achieved than to set firm deadlines that often cannot be met. PM
 CHIRAC OPENS RAMBOUILLET TALKSFrench President Jacques Chirac told the Serbian and Kosovar delegations on 5 February that "the world is watching and waiting" for a settlement of the Kosova dispute. He stressed that "peace is in your hands. I call on your sense of responsibility and your courage. Not the courage that leads to war, to revenge and an endless cycle of violence, but to true courage...the courage to accept negotiations and make peace." The French leader stressed that "there are rare moments when history is in the hands of only a few men. This is the case today as you take your places at the negotiating table." PM
 BOTH SIDES ACCEPT 10 PRINCIPLESThe two delegations agreed on 7 February to accept 10 basic principles on the future of the province. An unnamed Western mediator told AP, however, that "the devil is in the details." French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his British counterpart, Robin Cook, are co-chairs of the conference. U.S. mediator Chris Hill, the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch, and Russian envoy Boris Mayorskii will play key roles. Reuters quoted Hill as saying that "there is not going to be any free time." Cook remarked that posturing by both sides could lead to "daily dramas." The Serbs prevented the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) representatives from leaving Prishtina airport on 5 February until last-minute telephone calls from Chirac ensured that they would arrive in Rambouillet on time. Once the talks began, the UCK refused to place its arms under NATO control and demanded the same legal status as the Bosnian Serb army. PM
 THOUSANDS ATTEND FUNERAL IN KOSOVAIn Rambouillet on 7 February, both delegations endorsed a statement condemning a bomb attack in Prishtina the previous day. Deutsche Welle reported from the Kosovar capital that unidentified "extremists" may try to disrupt the talks through further acts of violence in the province. In the village of Rogova, near the Albanian border, some 5,000 Kosovars attended the funeral of nine men killed by Serbian security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). PM
 GEORGIEVSKI FIRM ON TIES WITH TAIWANMacedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said in Washington on 5 February that his discussions with Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen centered on Kosova and on Macedonia's role in the crisis. He noted that Albright was concerned that Macedonia's recent decision to recognize Taiwan could prompt China to attempt to link that recognition with extending the mandate of the UN peace-keeping force in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Georgievski stressed that recognition of Taiwan is likely to greatly benefit the Macedonian economy. PM
 BRCKO HEARINGS OPENTalks lasting up to 10 days on the future of the disputed northeastern Bosnian town of Brcko are slated to open on 8 February in Vienna. U.S. mediator Roberts Owen has the option of postponing a decision for a third time, declaring Brcko neutral district, or assigning Brcko to the Republika Srpska or to the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation. Reuters quoted unnamed Western diplomats in Sarajevo as saying that Owen is likely either to postpone the decision or to opt for the neutral district model. Control of Brcko is vitally important to the Serbs, since it and the surrounding "corridor" link the two halves of the Republika Srpska. The Muslims and Croats argue that they together constituted the majority in the town before the war and that to deny them Brcko would be to endorse the results of "ethnic cleansing." Brcko was the one territorial issue so thorny that it was not settled in the 1995 Dayton agreement. PM
 CROATIAN NEWS AGENCY CHIEF QUITSBranko Salaj resigned on 5 February as director of the state news agency Hina. He charged that the government forced him to appoint a chief editor who has no journalistic experience and that the parliament failed to pass a law making Hina a public agency rather than a state institution. Also in Zagreb, AP obtained a copy of the latest OSCE report on democratization in Croatia. The document concluded that "conditions for the independent press have deteriorated..., no effective efforts have been made...[to remove] the flaws in the administration of justice..., no progress in improving human rights, minority rights and the rule of law." Elsewhere, the parliament appointed Milan Vukovic to one of the 11 seats on the Constitutional Court. Some five of the 11 judges protested the appointment of Vukovic, whom they regard as too close to the governing Croatian Democratic Community. PM
 CLAIMANT TO ALBANIAN THRONE ARRESTEDPolice arrested Leka Zogu and at least three other Albanian nationals near Johannesburg, South Africa, on 5 February for illegal possession of weapons. Police confiscated more than 70 fire arms and 14,000 rounds of ammunition. Reuters reported that Leka came to South Africa in the 1970s and received diplomatic status and immunity from the Apartheid-era National Party government. A police spokesman said the authorities recently lifted Leka's diplomatic immunity but did not indicate why. In Tirana, monarchist Legality Party spokesman Murat Basha told "Gazeta Shqiptare" of 6 February that Leka bought the weapons in 1979 in Spain in the hope of launching an attack against the regime of communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Leka never staged the assault but added the weapons to his collection, Basha noted. Leka faces prison in Albania for allegedly having organized a coup attempt in July 1997. FS
 MORE THAN $1 MILLION 'LOST' AT ALBANIAN MOBILE PHONE COMPANYA spokesman for the government's anti-corruption agency said on 5 February that preliminary results of an investigation into the state-owned company Albanian Mobile Communications (AMC) suggest that the firm is short of some $1.3 million because of unpaid bills from individual customers. The collapsed Vefa pyramid scheme accounts for the largest portion of the debt. Agency officials added that AMC did not conduct all its business in a transparent fashion, which makes auditing difficult. Elsewhere, Pirro Xhixho, who heads the government's privatization agency, told "Koha Jone" that AMC will be privatized by the end of April. FS
 ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES 1999 BUDGETPrime Minister Radu Vasile, addressing a joint session of the two chambers of the parliament on 7 February, expressed the hope that the IMF delegation expected to arrive in Bucharest on 8 February will approve his cabinet's "austerity budget" and resume lending in order to avoid defaulting on the country's nearly $3 billion external debt. Vasile said that if this does not happen, the opposition, which negotiated the loans now due for repayment, must "share responsibility." The budget envisages a deficit of 2.4 percent of GDP, but Vasile said this may be reduced to 2 percent following the debate in the parliament. It also envisages a 25 percent inflation rate, compared with 40 percent in 1998. The premier said that unemployment is expected to grow from 1 million to 1.2 million. MS
 ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS NATO OVER LOSING CREDIBILITYVictor Babiuc, addressing an international security conference in Munich on 7 February, warned that NATO might "lose credibility" if no new countries are invited to join the organization, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. He suggested that as a first step, Romania and Slovenia be granted a "special position" at the April NATO Washington summit and that specific conditions and a timetable for their fulfillment be agreed on in order to distinguish those two countries from other candidates. President Emil Constantinescu, in an interview with the "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 6 February, deplored the fact that "the iron curtain has been replaced by a velvet one" discriminating among former communist states over the integration of those states into Euro-Atlantic structures. He said Romania has "never asked for Western gifts" but expects the West to support the reform process in its own interest, because "the only alternative to reform is national communism." MS
 MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE OUTLINES CABINET FORMATION PLANS...Premier-designate Serafim Urecheanu told reporters in Chisinau on 5 February that he wants to head a cabinet of experts that will not be proportional to parliamentary representation, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said that he intends to ask the parliament to grant the government the right to rule by decree for at least two years. Urecheanu also said that currently, the possible participation of the Party of Moldovan Communists in his cabinet is "being examined" just to ensure "the best solution for the country's most pressing problems." MS
 ...WHILE COALITION LEADERS DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM HIMThe leaders of the three political formations that make up the ruling coalition said on 7 February that they do not support the idea of a government of technocrats and that "extra- parliamentary solutions" that do not reflect the composition of the parliament are unlikely to provide a solution to the problems Moldova is facing. Taking part in a round-table discussion broadcast by RFE/RL, Dumitru Diacov, parliamentary chairman and For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc leader, Mircea Snegur, who heads the Party of Revival and Conciliation, and Iurie Rosca, leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front, said Urecheanu's demand to allow the government to rule by decree for two years is unconstitutional. They said the parliament could approve legislation allowing the government to rule by "emergency regulations" but that the legislature's necessary approval would be a long and cumbersome process. MS
[C] END NOTE
 MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT'S RESIGNATION UNDERLINES ECONOMIC WOESby Michael Wyzan
Moldovan Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc blamed his resignation last week on the difficulty of consolidating his cabinet owing to its diverse composition. Some local observers, for their part, pointed to his "incompetence." But regardless of the Ciubuc government's internal structure and competence, Moldova is beset by severe economic problems that would daunt any cabinet.
In 1998, for the second time in three years, positive economic growth was forecast but failed to materialize, largely because of factors beyond the government's control. GDP fell by 7.8 percent in 1996, after observers had predicted positive growth that year. The decline was generally attributed to the poor harvest.
Last year, the most visible problem was the Russian financial crisis, which began in August. While the government originally forecast GDP growth of 6 percent for 1998 (revised to 3 percent in June), it announced in December that it expected a GDP decline of fully 10 percent. That would make it the only one of the nine smaller CIS countries (that is, excluding Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine) where GDP declined last year.
However, the Russian crisis was not the only factor that negatively affected Moldova's economic growth. GDP fell by 5.3 percent during January- June 1998. Pre-crisis Western forecasts for GDP growth ranged between -2 and +2 percent.
Moldova's economic problems reflect both its geopolitical environment and a period of retreat from reformist economic policy that began in 1997, after a solid start in the earlier post-independence years. Early achievements included relatively low inflation and a stable currency. Consumer prices increased by 23.8 percent in 1995 (December-to-December), the lowest inflation among the former Soviet republics, while the leu fell only slightly against the U.S. dollar, from 4.06 in April 1994 to 4.75 in July 1998.
That stability has been undermined by the Russian crisis. While consumer prices fell by 2 percent from January through August 1998, they rose by 8.6 percent in November alone and increased by about 10 percent for the year. Exchange rate movements have been particularly alarming, with the leu falling to 6.2 to the dollar on 30 October and 8.55 on 1 February. In a losing battle to prop up the currency unit, the national bank saw its international reserves fall from almost $365 million at the end of 1997 to about $150 million at the close of 1998.
The leu's nosedive has resulted in the collapse of the monthly wage from its June 1998 peak of $52. Even those low wages are often not paid: state sector wage arrears reached a record 638.2 million lei ($76.9 million) in December. While the official unemployment rate is only about 2.5 percent, the numbers on unpaid leave and working part-time are five times the number of unemployed.
Moldova is also behind on its payments to Russia's Gazprom, to which it owed $439 million at the end of 1998. Attempts to ameliorate this problem-- for example, by giving Gazprom a controlling stake in Molodovagaz in October 1998 or paying off debt by transferring state-guaranteed bonds to the company (against the IMF's wishes) in September--have improved matters only temporarily.
The country had a trade deficit of $366.3 million during January-November 1998, compared with $284.8 million in the same period of the previous year. Especially worrisome is Moldova's continued trade dependence on Russia and the CIS, the former accounting for 60 percent and the latter 74 percent of its exports. Total exports were 22.5 percent lower in January-November 1998 than in the same period in 1997, with big declines in the export of food, beverages, and tobacco.
The current account imbalance was $176 million (about 16 percent of GDP) during January-June 1998, compared with $149 million during the same period in 1997. Moldova attracts little foreign direct investment ($265 million cumulatively through 1997), and attempts to sell large firms to international investors proceeded fitfully in 1998, although enterprises producing cement, pharmaceuticals, and leather were sold. It is thus no wonder that Moldova has the second- largest foreign debt as a share of GDP in the CIS (after Tajikistan).
But there is one important positive indicator: relations with the IMF and World Bank are back on track. In mid-1997, the IMF had halted disbursements under a $190 million loan approved in May 1996 owing to concern over a growing budget deficit, slow privatization, and the failure to raise energy prices.
But on 11 January, the IMF announced the resumption of lending to Moldova, agreeing to disburse that month a $35 million tranche, and the World Bank is providing the same amount in support of privatization and structural reform. The IMF was pleased by both the passage of an austere 1999 budget and with the parliament's approval in December of the privatization of Moldtelcom and energy sector companies.
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