|Thursday, 28 May 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 35, 99-02-19
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 35, 19 February 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS FOR 30 MAYOn 18 February, President Robert Kocharian set 30 May as the date for the upcoming parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The previous day, Kocharian had signed into law the controversial election bill passed by parliament in the final reading on 5 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). Opposition deputies had called on Kocharian to veto the bill, arguing that the allocation of 75 of 131 seats in single- candidate constituencies is conducive to election fraud. Representatives of two pro-presidential parties, the Self-Determination Union and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, said on 18 February that they will continue to lobby for amendments to the law. LF
 AZERBAIJAN OIL EXPORTS RESUMEDThe export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline resumed late on 17 February, Interfax reported the following day quoting an official from Russia's Transneft, which operates the Russian sector of the pipeline. Export had been halted on 16 February, the third such stoppage this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). LF
 $500,000 IN COUNTERFEIT NOTES CONFISCATED IN TBILISIGeorgian police have arrested six people from whom they confiscated a total of $500,000 in counterfeit notes, Interfax reported on 18 February quoting a senior Georgian Interior Ministry official. He added that the haul is the largest single sum in counterfeit dollars ever found in either the CIS or Europe. He did not say where the counterfeit notes originated, but Interfax suggested they may have been printed in Urus Martan, the stronghold of opposition to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. LF
 ABKHAZIA'S GREEK MINORITY SEEKS TO RETURNAn unspecified number of Pontic Greeks who were evacuated from Abkhazia to Greece during the 1993 war now wish to return, Caucasus Press reported on 18 February. In an appeal published in "Respublika Abkhaziya," the Greek refugees expressed concern that efforts by international organizations to repatriate those former inhabitants of Abkhazia who now want to return focus primarily on the ethnic Georgian population. Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba has promised his support for those Greeks who wish to return to Abkhazia. The Greek minority there numbered approximately 15,000 prior to the 1992-1993 war. LF
 KURDS DEMONSTRATE IN KAZAKHSTAN...Some 300 ethnic Kurds took to the streets of the former capital, Almaty, on 18 February to demonstrate against the arrest and detainment of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. As the demonstration was unsanctioned and Almaty's mayor had warned Kurdish groups against such demonstrations, police attempted to stop the group before they could reach the Turkish Embassy. A scuffle broke out and four Kurds were arrested. They were later released from custody but a criminal case will be opened against them. BP
 ... AND PLAN A HUNGER STRIKE IN KYRGYZSTANAn official from the Nyshtyman Kurdish Association in Bishkek told RFE/RL correspondents on 18 February that if Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev does not appeal to Turkish leaders for clemency in the case against Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, some plan to go on hunger strike. BP
 SECURITY TIGHTENED ALONG KAZAKH-UZBEK BORDERKazakhstan has tightened security along its border with Uzbekistan following the bombings in the Uzbek capital on 16 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. Uzbek customs officer are no allowing any citizens of Kazakhstan to cross into Uzbek territory. BP
 TURKMEN CELEBRATE HOLIDAY, PRESIDENT NAMES PARTICIPANTS OF CONSORTIUMTurkmen citizens celebrated National Flag Day on 19 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat reported. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov used the occasion to officially announce the operator for construction of the Trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline. The United States Consortium PSG, comprised of General Electric Capital Construction and Finance Group and Bechtel Enterprises, received the contract to build the 2,000- kilometer long pipeline, which will cost an estimated $2 billion. Richard Morningstar, the special advisor to the US President and Secretary of State, attended the signing ceremony along with Niyazov and representatives of the two companies. Morningstar appeared on Turkmen National Television the night before saying construction of the pipeline is "a major step in establishing on a permanent basis, the independence and sovereignty of the country of Turkmenistan." BP
 TURKMENISTAN PREPARES PLANS FOR FIRST DECADE OF NEXT CENTURYAt an 18 February ceremony dedicated to National Flag Day and his own birthday, the Turkmen president said the 1991 program "Ten Years of Stability" has largely been fulfilled, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Niyazov said a program for economic development up to the year 2010 will be adopted this December and that the next century will be a "golden age" for his country. The plan aims at making the country self-sufficient in food and providing an increase in annual average per capita income equivalent to between $10,000-$15,000. Niyazov said Turkmenistan will "build a society in which spiritual and moral laws will dominate" and that "everybody, no matter what their ethnic origin, will feel as a citizen, enjoying every right." BP
 PICTURES OF SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS SHOWN ON TELEVISIONUzbek Television on 18 February showed pictures of two people wanted for questioning in connection with the bombings in Tashkent on 16 February, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Ulughbek Babajanov, 28, and his wife Dildora, 22, are believed to have been involved in organizing the bombings which authorities there say were an assassination attempt on Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Both the suspects reside in the Fergana Valley, an area which has been under special scrutiny by Uzbek law enforcement agencies because of its strong ties to Islam. RFE/RL correspondents in Tashkent reported that the Babajanovs' vehicle was seen in Tashkent prior to the explosions. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 ALBRIGHT WARNS MILOSEVIC OF STRIKES...U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he will suffer damaging air strikes if the Serb and ethnic Albanian sides at Rambouillet, France, fail to reach a peace agreement by the 20 February deadline, Reuters reported. Albright said she told Milosevic by phone on 18 February that "if air strikes occur, he will be hit hard and he will be deprived of the things he values." She said the deadline, noon on 20 February, is firm. Some 430 NATO attack and support planes are on alert and a U.S. Defense Ministry official said an initial strike of 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles is also an option. Albright is flying to France on 19 February to press the two sides to agree to sign the Contact Group's peace agreement. PB
 ...AND HILL GOES TO BELGRADE AS DEADLINE NEARSChief U.S. Kosova envoy Christopher Hill flew to Belgrade on 19 February in a final effort to persuade President Milosevic to accept a Kosova peace deal, Reuters reported. Milosevic specifically objects to a provision in the agreement that would station up to 30,000 NATO troops in Kosova to oversee the agreement. Reports said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, may also fly to Belgrade in an effort to convince Milosevic to accept the agreement. Unnamed diplomats said the EU is considering lifting sanctions against Yugoslavia in an effort to gain Belgrade's approval of the accord. PB
 UNHAPPY DELEGATIONS GIVEN REVISED DRAFT OF PEACE ACCORDThe Serbian and Kosovar Albanian delegations at Rambouillet were presented with a final draft of the international community's peace plan on 18 February, AFP reported. Christopher Hill, Russia's Boris Mayorskii, and the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch told the press they had submitted the revised document to the rival sides and asked them to regard it as final. Hill said some members of the delegations were "getting very grouchy." He said they needed to calm down and realize "what we are doing is making sense." An adviser to the Albanian delegation said the draft was "getting messy" and that the Albanian side may not sign it. Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) delegates are reportedly unwilling to give up their arms under the agreement. The three mediators ruled out extending the deadline for signing the accord. PB
 SOLANA SAYS NATO HAS POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR STRIKESNATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 18 February that NATO would have the necessary political support for both air strikes against Kosova and a peace-keeping mission there, Reuters reported. Solana was in Macedonia with U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO's supreme commander in Europe, for talks with Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, Premier Ljubco Georgievski, and Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev. The NATO extraction force in Macedonia could be called on to evacuate the OSCE verifiers in Kosova in case of a withdrawal ahead of air strikes. An OSCE spokeswoman said the verifiers would withdraw in the event an agreement is not signed by the deadline. Western countries also began evacuating non- essential personnel from their embassies in Belgrade on 18 February. PB
 SERBIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR END TO PRESSUREMilan Milutinovic arrived at Rambouillet on 18 February and called on the Contact Group to stop pressuring Belgrade into accepting a NATO peace- keeping force in Kosova and instead focus on political aspects of the peace accord, AP reported. Milutinovic said he sent a letter calling the demand "a flagrant violation of the UN charter and the basic principles of international relations." He added that "threats and ultimatums can only distance the participants in the talks." PB
 ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER HOPEFUL ON KOSOVA DEALPaskal Milo said he is optimistic that Serbs and Kosovar Albanians will reach a peace agreement by the 20 February deadline, dpa reported. Milo, in an interview with the paper "Zeri i Popullit," said his intuition told him that an agreement would be signed. He said the Albanian government is in contact with "all Albanian political factors" present at Rambouillet. "Our input has been considered very useful," he said. For his part, opposition leader Sali Berisha condemned the peace talks, saying that Kosova's independence is "a condition for peace in the Balkans." PB
 CONTACT GROUP CRITICIZES BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENTThe six-nation Contact Group issued a statement in Vienna on 18 February criticizing Bosnian Serb President Nikola Poplasen for allowing Belgrade to interfere in its affairs, Reuters reported. The statement accused Poplasen of ceding "his constitutional role to a foreign government." It said it would support "strong action" by Carlos Westendorp, the international community's high representative in Bosnia- Herzegovina, if Poplasen continued to fail to appoint an acceptable prime minister for the Republika Srpska. PB
 CROATIAN, SLOVENIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS BORDER ISSUESSlovenian Foreign Minister Boris Frlec and his Croatian counterpart, Mate Granic met outside of Ljubljana on 17 February to discuss border issues, HINA reported. The talks are expected to last two days and are a continuation of talks involving Istrian territorial disputes. In other news, a former Yugoslav Air Force pilot was acquitted on 18 February of committing a war crime against civilians in Slovenia's battle for independence in 1991. The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict Vladimir Bodis, an ethnic Serb, of firing missiles and bullets at a truck convoy, killing four people. PB
 HEAVY SENTENCES IN ROMANIAN SMUGGLING AFFAIRA Bucharest military court on 18 February sentenced Lt. Col. Ioan Suciu, former commander of Bucharest military airport, to 14 years in jail for complicity in smuggling, false testimony and forgery in the "cigarette smuggling" affair uncovered in April 1998, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Six other officers and 12 businessmen were also sentenced to jail terms and heavy fines. Col. Gheorghe Trutulescu, considered to have masterminded the affair, received a lighter sentence (7 years in prison) because of his cooperation with the investigators. Also on 18 February, 11 miners who participated in the clash with police forces on 16 February, were fined in Craiova 1 million lei each (about $83) for relatively minor offenses. In Bucharest, police announced that the miners' leader, Miron Cozma, already sentenced to 18 years, will be charged with offenses that may carry a sentence of additional 15 years. MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW PREMIER- DESIGNATEPetru Lucinschi on 19 February appointed outgoing deputy premier Ion Sturdza as the new premier- designate, Infotag reported. On 18 February, the leaders of the coalition majority Alliance for Democracy and Reform (PRCM) failed to agree on a joint candidate for the post made vacant after Serafim Urecheanu withdrew his candidacy. Former president Mircea Snegur's Party of Revival and Conciliation (PRCM) again proposed Nicolae Andronic to the post. Christian Democratic Popular Front (FPCD) leader Iurie Rosca (although allied with the PRCM in the Democratic Convention of Moldova) proposed Sturdza, a member of the pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc. Both candidacies were submitted to Lucinschi, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Snegur said after the meeting that the Democratic Convention of Moldova, in which both the PRCM and the FPCD are members) has "practically ceased to exist." MS
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT ON NATO GROUND DEPLOYMENT IN KOSOVABulgaria is ready to support a possible NATO ground operation in Kosova "with non-combat units," state radio on 18 February cited Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev as saying. Ananiev said Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova will negotiate with NATO an agreement on Bulgaria's possible involvement, which must then be ratified by the parliament. In other news, President Petar Stoyanov on 18 February appointed Deputy Justice Minister Nikola Filichev to be Bulgaria's new Prosecutor-General, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia Reported. His appointment follows the recommendation of the Supreme Judiciary Council on 16 February. Filichev replaces Ivan Tatarchev, who ended a seven year mandate. MS
 BULGARIA RATIFIES CONVENTION ON MINORITIESThe parliament on 18 February ratified the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities with a 162-28 vote, and 18 abstentions, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. The opposition Socialist Party opposed the ratification. The legislature also adopted a separate document saying that the endorsement of the convention "by no means sanctions activities directed harming the territorial integrity and sovereignty" of Bulgaria, or its "internal and international security." Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told legislators that the convention's ratification puts an end to "ethnic or religious extremism" and to "nationalism as an antidote to democracy." MS
[C] END NOTE
 POPE JOHN PAUL II TO HEAD EAST?By Felix Corley
Pope John Paul II may be about to fulfill a long-held ambition by making the first-ever visit by the head of the Catholic Church to a predominantly Orthodox country. This month, both Romania and Ukraine have repeated earlier invitations, but this time conditions seem favorable for such visits to take place. And on 16 February Vatican officials announced that a papal visit to Armenia later this year is also being considered. (The vast majority of the population of Armenia belongs, at least nominally, to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a member of the Oriental family of Eastern Christian Churches.)
The Romanian visit may well take place soon. The Pope would never visit a country without invitations from both the government and the dominant religious community, and in the case of Romania, the long-standing government invitation (first extended by former President Ion Iliescu in 1991) has now been complemented by one from the Romanian Orthodox Church, to which 80 percent of the 22 million-strong population belongs, at least nominally. "Given the ecumenical international relations between the Romanian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church and a recent letter addressed by the Pope to the patriarch saying he wishes to come soon to Romania, the synod considers that Patriarch Teoctist can address the invitation," a 4 February statement declared.
The patriarch subsequently issued the invitation, which the Vatican's chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Pope had accepted. Navarro-Valls added that "the date and agenda of the trip have not yet been defined," but Italian media reports and Romania's ambassador to the Vatican suggested it will take place in early May. Ambassador Teodor Baconsky told Romanian Radio that the visit will last two days and be confined to Bucharest, adding that the Pope will meet President Emil Constantinescu and Patriarch Teoctist and hold an ecumenical service and a Roman Catholic mass.
Whether such a circumscribed visit would satisfy the Pope remains to be seen. Much of his flock in Romania is to be found in Transylvania, the home of the Eastern-rite Catholic Church. Many of the Latin-rite Catholics, especially the ethnic Hungarians and Germans, also live in Transylvania. Although arguments over ownership of some 2,000 former Catholic churches handed to the Orthodox after 1948 have largely remained unresolved, the improved atmosphere over the past year has led to a serious attempt on either side to resolve the squabbles over property.
The invitation to Ukraine is likely to be more problematic, in terms of both agenda and scheduling. The 10 February announcement that President Leonid Kuchma had issued an invitation, personally handed to the Pope by Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko on a recent visit, leaves unanswered the question of how the Ukrainian Orthodox will respond. With the Orthodox forming the vast majority of the population outside western Ukraine (the heartland of the 5 million-strong Eastern- rite Catholic Church), the Pope will have to tread warily.
Moreover, matters are complicated by the bitter divisions within the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which has split into three main factions. The Vatican follows the lead of the rest of the Orthodox world in recognizing the Ukrainian Church loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate (headed by Metropolitan Volodymyr Sabodan) as the canonical Orthodox Church. And another complicating factor are upcoming elections: since the Pope would not visit a country ahead of such vote, for fear of seeming to endorse any candidates, so any visit to Ukraine will have to be fitted in after presidential elections in October and November but before the end of the year, as the Vatican has declared 2000 a jubilee year during which the Pope will not maintain his customary heavy travel schedule.
The Pope has long wanted to seek to reconcile the two halves of historical Christianity. His fourth foreign pilgrimage as Pope, in November 1979, had been to Istanbul to visit Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios. His 1985 encyclical Slavorum Apostoli (Apostles of the Slavs) praised the two Slavic saints Cyril and Methodius and urged a return to the undivided European Church, which had existed before the 1054 schism. In a 1985 speech, the Pope had declared: "The Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs--the Eastern one and the Western one."
But the existence of Eastern-rite Catholic Churches--which retain Orthodox- style liturgy while acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Pope--has long been a source of tension between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The recent reemergence of Eastern-rite Catholic Churches that had been banned under communism annoyed the Orthodox Churches, which regard them as traitors to Orthodoxy, and fueled accusations of Vatican "proselytism" in the Orthodox world.
Partly in response to such accusations, relations between the Orthodox Churches and the Vatican have cooled. The head of the largest Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All-Russia, has several times torpedoed projected meetings with Pope John Paul, although the most senior Orthodox hierarch, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has continued to hold meetings with the Pontiff.
John Paul II has made numerous pilgrimages to countries where Catholics are in a minority and has even visited states such as Muslim Morocco and Lutheran Finland, where Catholics do not even make up 1 percent of the population. But with Orthodox passions running against the Vatican, a papal visit to an Orthodox country would have been unthinkable until recently. The influence of the Orthodox Churches over the governments in their countries had in effect erected a new Iron Curtain. This year appears to offer the best hope yet for Pope John Paul II to push back that curtain.
The author writes on religious affairs in Eastern Europe.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty