|Wednesday, 27 May 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 31, 99-02-15
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 31, 15 February 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN TOP BRASS CALL FOR ARREST OF COLLEAGUE'S MURDERERArmenian armed forces commanders have sent an open letter to Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian demanding that the murderers of the interior troops commander Artsrun Markarian be brought to justice within a "short period," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 12 February. The text of that letter was released to the media by the press service of the Defense Ministry. The letter also criticizes the Interior and National Security Ministry's failure to resolve the murder last December of Deputy Defense Minister Vahram Khorkhoruni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 12 February quoted Serzh Sarkisian saying that he will resign if he is unable to solve Markarian's murder. Sarkisian added that his ministry has requested "professional assistance" from the U.S. government and from Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin to achieve that end. LF
 IRANIAN EX-PRESIDENT WARNS AZERBAIJAN OVER BASESSpeaking on Tehran Radio on 12 February, Al-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said the establishment of either U.S. or NATO military bases in Azerbaijan would be "dangerous" and could jeopardize the exploitation of Caspian oil reserves, Turan and Reuters reported. Rafsanjani also expressed displeasure at the Russian military presence in Armenia, noting, however, that "the Russians have been there since the Soviet era, and now they are packing up." LF
 AZERBAIJANI EX-PREMIER SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENTAzerbaijan's Supreme Court sentenced Suret Huseinov on 15 February to life imprisonment and confiscated his property, Interfax reported. Huseinov, who led the 1993 insurgency that culminated in the flight of President Abulfaz Elchibey and the return to power of Heidar Aliev, was found guilty on charges of attempting a coup d'etat in October 1994 and plotting to assassinate Aliev the following year. LF
 GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN TIES WITH ABKHAZIAThe Georgian Foreign Ministry sent a formal protest to Moscow on 13 February expressing its concern that some Russian regions continue to circumvent the Georgian central government and establish economic contacts with Georgia's breakaway Black Sea region of Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported. Tbilisi also protested the fact that Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba and his South Ossetian counterpart, Lyudvig Chibirov, were both invited to attend a 6-8 February conference of North Caucasus leaders in Sochi. LF
 ABKHAZ LEADER EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR REPATRIATION OFFERMeeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevskii on 12 February, Vladislav Ardzinba explained that he proposed beginning the unilateral repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion on 1 March because he has lost hope of reaching an agreement with Tbilisi whereby the beginning of the repatriation would be linked to economic issues, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Ardzinba's spokesman, Ruslan Khashig. Khashig also said that Arzdzinba has appealed to the UN and Russia to name representatives to a working group that will monitor the repatriation process and security measures in Gali. In an interview with ApsnyPress on 25 January, Arzdinba said that representatives of international organizations proposed postponing the beginning of repatriation until mid-April but that he insists on the 1 March date. LF
 RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS WITHDRAW FROM GEORGIAN-TURKISH FRONTIERThe last contingent of Russian border guards on the Akhaltsikhe sector of the Georgian-Turkish border formally ceded their post to Georgian colleagues on 14 February, Russian agencies reported. Under an intergovernmental agreement signed in November 1998, Russian border guards are to be withdrawn from Georgia's land frontiers, including the Adjar sector of the Georgian-Turkish border, by July 1999. The Russian troops are ceding half their arms and equipment to Georgia, according to Interfax. LF
 TEN PERCENT OF CHILDREN BORN IN GEORGIA ARE HANDICAPPEDAlmost one in every 10 children born in Georgia suffers from either a mental or physical deficiency, Caucasus Press reported on 13 February, citing the Georgian Statistics department. The incidence of both premature births and infant mortality has risen dramatically in recent years. The national birthrate in 1997 was 10.7 per thousand, 6 percent lower than in 1990; but in certain regions, including Kakheti and Imereti, it is close to zero. LF
 UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SEES LITTLE PROGRESS IN TAJIKISTANKofi Annan, in a report on progress in the Tajik peace process given to the Security Council on 12 February, said the slow pace of implementing constitutional reforms has led to a "growing restlessness" in the country, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. Annan noted that the United Tajik Opposition is close to having its 30 percent share of representation in the government guaranteed under the terms of the 1997 Peace Accord but added that it has not fully disarmed is fighters nor integrated all of them into the national armed forces. Annan also criticized the Tajik government for neither fully implementing an amnesty law nor preparing for a referendum on changes to the constitution. He said that "at this stage, it is impossible to say with certainty that in 1999 a constitutional referendum, presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in [Tajikistan]." BP
 UTO DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN DRUG TRADEUTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri issued a statement on 11 February rejecting allegations that UTO members are involved in the narcotics trade, Asia-Plus reported. Nuri was responding to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov's claim that UTO members are participating in trafficking drugs and plan to use profits from that activity to finance future political campaigns. Nuri said such claims "may endanger the peace process." BP
 KAZAKHSTAN TO SOW LESS GRAIN THIS YEARKazakhstan's Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Toleuhan Nurkianov, said on 12 February that 12.2 million hectares will be sown with grain crops this year, compared with 13.3 million hectares in 1998, Interfax reported. He added that seeds, weed killer, fuel or operational farm vehicles are insufficient even for the reduced number of hectares to be sown. Nurkianov also reported that last year agricultural output dropped by 18.7 percent, partly owing to bad weather. Kazakhstan traditionally exports grain to Russian regions along its border and also to neighboring countries in Central Asia. The decrease in grain production in Kazakhstan will not affect the domestic market but could mean shortages in other countries in the region later this year. BP
 CHEVRON PROMISES CONTINUED INVESTMENT IN KAZAKHSTANNick Zana, the president of Chevron Overseas Petroleum Inc., told the chairman of Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament, Marat Ospanov, on 12 February that his company will not reduce its investments in Kazakhstan's oil sector, despite falling prices on world markets, Interfax reported. Chevron invested $550 million in the TengizChevrOil joint-stock company in 1998 and will stick to its plans for another $450 million investment this year. The joint-stock company produced 8.5 million tons of oil in 1998 and plans 9 million tons this year. BP
 FORMER KYRGYZ FINANCE MINISTER FIRED FROM NEW POST...Taalaibek Koichumanov on 12 February was dismissed as head of the finance, economic, and investment department in the government's administration, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Interior Minister Omurbek Kutuev has called several times for his arrest over an $18.5 million loan that Koichumanov, in his capacity as finance minister, had authorized to the former director of the country's state oil and gas company. The latter took the money and fled the country in December. Shortly thereafter, Koichumanov was fired as finance minister. BP
 ...WHILE STILL UNDER CRITICISM FOR PERFORMANCE AS FINANCE MINISTERKyrgyz President Askar Akayev told a meeting of National Bank officials on 11 February that Koichumanov's "unprofessional activities" are to blame for outstanding pensions, according to RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek. Akayev said pensioners are owed some 500 million som ($17 million), which, he promised, will be paid off this year. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 CONTACT GROUP SETS DEADLINE FOR KOSOVA AGREEMENTForeign ministers of the six Contact Group countries agreed in Paris on 14 February that the Serbian and Kosovar delegations to the talks in Rambouillet must reach an agreement by noon on 20 February. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made it clear that NATO is prepared to launch airstrikes against Serbian targets if the Serbian side is the main obstacle to an agreement. The Kosovars face a loss of foreign diplomatic support and interdiction of their arms supplies from Albania if they balk. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Paris that the Contact Group did not discuss the possible deployment of foreign troops to Kosova to enforce a settlement. Moscow and Belgrade oppose any such mission without Serbian approval. On 13 February, President Bill Clinton said in Washington that the U.S. is prepared to send up to 4,000 ground troops as part of an enforcement mission, 85 percent of which would consist of European troops. PM
 ALBRIGHT LEAVES 'NOT OPTIMISTIC'Albright had what Serbian sources called "an extremely unpleasant" meeting with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in Paris on 14 February, AP reported. She then brought both delegations in Rambouillet together for their first face-to-face meeting. She said later that "they recognizedthat the killing must stop, that time is short." Albright told the negotiators that they "face a fork in the road. One fork leads to chaos, disaster, and more killing. The other fork leads back to a rational solution that will achieve peace, democracy and human rights. I hope the Serbs will see it in their interests to sign" the agreement. Albright noted that the Kosovars "recognize that the Contact Group plan is a fair dealand there is every indication that they will be ready to sign by the time the conference is over." Unnamed U.S. officials nonetheless told CNN on 14 February that Albright is "not optimistic" about the prospects for a successful outcome of the talks. PM
 FISCHER SEEKS HARMONY AMONG EU MEMBERS OVER KOSOVAEU foreign ministers met in Paris on 14 February under the chairmanship of Germany's Joschka Fischer, whose country holds the rotating EU chair. Fischer appealed to the Serbs and Kosovars "to think about the serious consequences" if the talks fail. He added that the 15 ministers discussed the "necessity of military guarantees" for a settlement. Fischer also sought to address complaints by Belgium and other unnamed smaller EU member states that the major European powers have not been keeping them regularly informed about diplomatic developments surrounding the Kosova crisis, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Belgian diplomats said that they need to be fully informed because NATO expects their country to contribute troops to an eventual peace-keeping force. PM
 BOMB WOUNDS NINE IN FERIZAJSerbian police detained some 40 persons in Ferizaj on 14 February in connection with a bomb explosion there the previous day, which left nine injured, the Kosovars' KIC news agency reported. KIC added that most of those arrested are known supporters of independence. Xhemail Mustafa, who is a spokesman for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rogova, said the Serbian security forces set off the bomb as part of an alleged "campaign of urban terror." Serbian police spokesmen charged that Kosovar guerrillas planted the device in order to deflect attention from the Rambouillet talks. AP noted that the explosion was unusual in that the 11-pound bomb was larger than most devices used in similar incidents and in that it took place during the day. PM
 WHAT IS GLIGOROV TRYING TO DO?Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on 13 February that the UCK must be disbanded as part of a settlement in Kosova. If not, he warned, "it can be used in other regions inhabited by Albanians, such as Montenegro, Macedonia, or Greece, which could cause an all-out Balkan conflict." Observers noted that ethnic Albanians in those three countries have little, if any, interest in an armed rebellion. The observers suggested that the increasingly outspoken Gligorov, who is close to the opposition Social Democrats but whose own office is largely ceremonial, hopes to weaken the governing coalition by exacerbating tensions between Albanians and Slavs. The coalition includes a Macedonian nationalist party and an Albanian nationalist one. Reuters reported on 14 February that several ethnic Albanian politicians criticized Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev for recently referring to the UCK as a "terrorist organization." PM
 ISRAEL, CROATIA SIGN $80 MILLION ARMS DEALCroatian Defense Minister Pavao Miljavac and Israel's Moshe Arens signed a military cooperation agreement in Tel Aviv on 15 February. Unnamed Israeli officials told AP that the deal is worth at least $80 million and possibly as much as $120 million, "depending on which options Croatia chooses." He did not elaborate. The deal will enable Elbit Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries to modernize Croatia aging MiG-21 aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 February 1999). Israeli critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Croatia has failed to confront its fascist legacy from World War II and that the Israeli government is "cynical" for making a deal with Zagreb. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government has accepted President Franjo Tudjman's apology for some allegedly anti-Semitic remarks. The spokesman added that "Israel...sees no difference between Croatia's relations with Israel and its relations with the rest of the world." PM
 MAJKO SAYS U.S. WILL 'PROTECT' ALBANIAPrime Minister Pandeli Majko told "Zeri I Popullit" of 14 February that "the U.S. will react if Albania's sovereignty is violated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). He called Washington Albania's "greatest ally, " stressing that the failure of the Rambouillet talks could lead to a regional conflict. "Nobody should think that Albania could stay out of a long-term conflict in Kosova," he warned. Echoing a recent statement, Majko said that "if a new massacre takes place in Kosova, the Albanians in both north and south will join in a collective self-defense" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported the same day that the largely conscript army is continuing its practice of hiring paid soldiers to boost the military presence along the northern borders. FS
 WERE ALBANIAN JUDGES INVOLVED IN COUP ATTEMPT?The High Council of Justice, which is empowered to appoint and dismiss judges, has summoned five judges from the Tirana local court to discuss their alleged involvement in an armed coup attempt in September 1998, "Koha Jone" reported on 13 February. Senior judges recently removed two of the five justices presiding over a trial related to the coup (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The High Council of Justice has the power to lift the five judges' immunity or discipline them. FS
 POPE TO VISIT ROMANIARomanian Patriarch Teoctist has officially invited Pope Paul John II to visit Romania, following a decision to that effect by the Holy Synod on 4 February, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 12 February. A spokesman for the Vatican said the visit, the pope's first to an Orthodox country, might take place from 7-9 May. MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT, MINERS TO SIGN COLLECTIVE LABOR CONTRACTThe Ministry of Industry and Trade said after negotiations with representatives of the Jiu Valley miners on 12 February that it has authorized the signing of collective labor contracts based on agreements reached last month by Prime Minister Radu Vasile and miners' leader Miron Cozma, Radio Bucharest reported. The sides agreed on the partial closure of two loss-making mines in the valley. In other news, President Emil Constantinescu, speaking to Romanian Television on 12 February, criticized Romanians who are "ostentatiously displaying wealth" while others see their living standards decline. He proposed that a special tax be imposed on the former. MS
 IMF POSTPONES TALKS WITH MOLDOVAThe IMF has postponed talks with the Moldovan leadership scheduled for this month until a new cabinet is formed, the IMF chief representative for Moldova, Mark Horton, told journalists in Chisinau on 12 February. Horton said the fund hopes that the cabinet change will not "complicate Moldova's relations with the IMF," adding that Ion Ciubuc's outgoing cabinet "demonstrated its ability to implement reforms and enjoyed the backing of Western creditors," ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 12 February, the World Bank representative to Moldova, James Parks, met with President Petru Lucinschi, who assured him that Moldova will meet its earlier commitments regardless of the composition of the new government, Infotag reported. MS
 BULGARIA TO FINANCE DANUBE BRIDGE ALONE?Prime Minister Ivan Kostov on 12 February told the parliament that Bulgaria is ready to finance a bridge over the River Danube between Vidin and the Romanian town of Calafat, Mediafax reported. He said that some 60-70 percent of the estimated $120 million costs might be met by international financing institutions. Romania favors constructing the bridge further east and has argued that the existing bridge between Russe and Giurgiu and ferry boats are sufficient to meet traffic needs, following the lifting of the embargo against Yugoslavia. MS
[C] END NOTE
 BULGARIA, MACEDONIA RESOLVE LANGUAGE DISPUTEby Ron Synovitz
The resolution last week of a long-standing language dispute between Bulgaria and Macedonia is more than a way to unblock stalled accords between the two countries. The deal also resolves potential territorial disputes that had threatened to keep both countries from joining NATO.
Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonia's statehood after the latter declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1992. But none of Sofia's governments in the past seven years has recognized the language spoken in Macedonia as anything more than a regional dialect of Bulgarian. This stand reflects the widespread perception in Bulgaria that Macedonians are in fact ethnic Bulgarians and are not part of Bulgaria only because that country was on the losing side in the Second Balkan War of 1913 and in both World Wars.
Sofia, moreover, feared that recognition of "Macedonian" as a distinct language would set a precedent, allowing Macedonia to make future territorial claims in southwestern Bulgaria, where a similar dialect is spoken. For its part, Skopje has refused to recognize Sofia's position out of similar fears that such a move might allow Bulgaria to make claims on its territories.
The breakthrough agreement, which took the form of a joint declaration, was initialized on 11 February by the two countries' deputy foreign ministers. In that document, both sides state that they have no territorial claims on each other. That removes the primary concerns behind the language dispute.
More important for Sofia, it resolves an issue that has threatened to keep Bulgaria out of NATO. The alliance insists that applicants will not be considered for membership as long as they have territorial disputes with their neighbors. Both Bulgaria and Macedonia have NATO aspirations and are members of the Partnership for Peace program. But Skopje has yet to fully resolve its dispute with Greece over use of the name "Macedonia," which is also the name of a northern region of Greece.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Alexander Dimitrov, speaking from the Kosova peace talks near Paris, told RFE/RL that the deal with Bulgaria will benefit regional stability in the Balkans as well as bilateral ties. "Our interest is in the development of relations between the Republic of Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia. We are determined, as a new government, to give a new impetus to relations in response to the interests of both countries and their people," he commented.
Some 20 accords have been prepared by Bulgaria and Macedonia in the past seven years. Many are vital for removing barriers to trade and economic relations--such as eliminating double taxation and guaranteeing foreign investments. But none of those accords has been finalized because of Skopje's insistence on the inclusion of a single clause: "The agreement will be written in the official language of Macedonia and the official language of Bulgaria."
Sofia had called that clause unacceptable because the Macedonian Constitution identifies the country's official language as "Macedonian." Sofia also has been uneasy about Article 49 of Macedonia's basic law, which says that Skopje has a right to protect its ethnic minorities abroad.
By agreeing to sign accords "in the official languages of the two countries, " Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov has offered a compromise that is, in effect, de facto recognition of the Macedonian tongue. In return, Skopje has agreed not to apply Article 49 to Bulgaria--in effect saying that there is no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Addressing the Bulgarian parliament on 10 February, Kostov said that "the joint declaration will be signed in the official languages of both countries -- the Bulgarian language according to the constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and in Macedonian according to the constitution of the Republic of Macedonia."
The Macedonian language is so close to Bulgarian that citizens of one country can understand those of the other without translation. Nevertheless, Skopje has insisted on bringing translators to Sofia on visits by Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov and other senior officials. That has turned some joint news conferences in Sofia into comic affairs.
When Gligorov made his first state visit to Sofia in 1994, the Bulgarian president at the time, Zhelyu Zhelev, told the translator from Skopje to sit down and be quiet because her efforts were unnecessary. The incident, and not least, Gligorov's red-faced reaction, revealed as much about bilateral relations than the policy statements of the two presidents.
Kostov says the declaration will be signed on 22 February, when new Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is due to visit Sofia. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov has hailed the accord, saying it will preserve the dignity of both states and open the way to broad cooperation.
The author is an RFE/RL editor based in Prague and a former free- lance correspondent in Bulgaria.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty