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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 50, 99-03-12

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 3, No. 50, 12 March 1999


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] AMENDMENTS TO ARMENIAN CONSTITUTION PROPOSED
  • [02] ARMENIA DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN FORMER ENVOY'S TRIP TO BAKU
  • [03] EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BACKS OSCE KARABAKH PEACE PLAN...
  • [04] ...WHILE U.S. BACKS DIRECT TALKS BETWEEN ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN
  • [05] AZERBAIJANI OIL REACHES GEORGIAN BLACK SEA TERMINAL
  • [06] FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMNET SPEAKER DENIES PLANNING ASSASSINATION
  • [07] KYRGYZSTAN TO REINFORCE ITS SOUTHERN BORDERS
  • [08] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN
  • [09] AKAYEV COMMENTS ON GREAT SILK ROAD
  • [10] KYRGYZ NATIONAL CURRENCY LOSING VALUE...
  • [11] ...WHILE GOLD PRODUCTION DWINDLING
  • [12] UZBEK TERRORISTS DETAINED IN KYRGYZSTAN?
  • [13] KAZAKH ENVIRONMENTALIST FAVORS CAVIAR OVER OIL
  • [14] IRANIAN OFFICIAL CRITICIZES CASPIAN PIPELINE PROJECT
  • [15] FOREIGN COMPANIES CUT PRODUCTION AT TURKMEN OIL FIELDS

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [16] RUSSIA'S IVANOV SIDES WITH BELGRADE ON NATO TROOPS IN KOSOVA
  • [17] UCK SEEMS AGREEABLE TO SIGNING ACCORD
  • [18] NATO SUPREME COMMANDER WARNS OF 'DEVASTATING STRIKES'
  • [19] UN REFUGEE AGENCY SAYS SOME 4,000 KOSOVARS MISSING
  • [20] POPLASEN THREATENS VIOLENCE IF ATTEMPT IS MADE TO REMOVE HIM
  • [21] CROATIA TO RESTORE MEMORIAL AT CONCENTRATION CAMP
  • [22] ALBANIAN CENTRAL BANK TO TIGHTEN BANK REQUIREMENTS
  • [23] BALKAN 'TROIKA' AGREE ON FREE TRADE ZONE
  • [24] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON NATO TO CONTINUE EXPANSION
  • [25] MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN VOTES CONFIDENCE IN STURDZA CABINET
  • [26] BULGARIAN PRESIDENT QUALIFIES KOSTOV'S REMARKS
  • [27] BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO MEMBERSHIP

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [28] UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENT MEDIA SUFFER MORE WOES

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] AMENDMENTS TO ARMENIAN CONSTITUTION PROPOSED

    Meeting on 10 March, the presidential Commission on Constitutional Reform proposed making it more difficult for the parliament to overturn a presidential veto on legislation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The commission proposed that the parliament need a two- thirds majority--instead of the current simple majority--to override a presidential veto. It also proposed that the president be empowered to dissolve parliament only in the event of its "inactivity." The constitution currently enables the president to dissolve the legislature virtually at will, except during the first year of its tenure and his last six months in office. The commission moved to remove the latter constraint. Commission chairman and presidential adviser Paruyr Hayrikian was quoted as saying that the proposed changes give the parliament more powers and "create a real balance" between the executive and legislative branches. LF

    [02] ARMENIA DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN FORMER ENVOY'S TRIP TO BAKU

    An Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 11 March that a planned visit to Baku by Jirair Libaridian, Armenia's former chief negotiator on Nagorno- Karabakh, was not endorsed by the Armenian leadership. "Libaridian is not authorized to speak on behalf of Armenia," the spokesman said. The Azerbaijani news agency Turan reported the previous day that Libaridian, who is a U.S. citizen, will arrive in Baku from Paris on 12 March as a "private guest" of President Heidar Aliev's chief foreign policy aide, Vafa Guluzade. The Azerbaijani agency quoted Guluzade as saying that Libaridian will be visiting Azerbaijan "on his own initiative" to "see Baku" and discuss the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Liparitian and Guluzade met face to face on several occasions in 1994-1996 in an attempt to find a solution to the Karabakh conflict. LF

    [03] EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BACKS OSCE KARABAKH PEACE PLAN...

    The European Parliament passed a resolution on 11 March endorsing the most recent Karabakh peace proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group, which it characterized as constituting a basis for discussion likely to end the negotiating deadlock. Noting that the October 1998 Azerbaijani presidential elections were "marked by fraud and irregularities that have been condemned by international observers" and that irregularities were also noted during the March 1998 Armenian presidential elections, the resolution proposes that EU aid to both countries be linked to "tangible progress in the areas of human rights and democracy." LF

    [04] ...WHILE U.S. BACKS DIRECT TALKS BETWEEN ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN

    In a 10 March message to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright underscored the intention of the U.S. to continue its efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict, adding that Washington "firmly backs" direct dialogue between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships, Turan and AFP reported. Albright also expressed satisfaction that Aliev plans to attend the NATO summit next month. Aliev will meet with U.S. leaders during his U.S. visit to discuss security issues in the Caucasus. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJANI OIL REACHES GEORGIAN BLACK SEA TERMINAL

    The first Azerbaijani off-shore Caspian oil to be exported via the western export pipeline via Georgia reached Supsa on 11 March, three months after it was pumped into the pipeline at Baku, AP and Interfax reported. The 812 kilometer pipeline has a throughput capacity of 5 million metric tons annually. Caucasus Press on11 March quoted Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Chechelashvili as saying that disagreements over financing are delaying a decision on construction of the so-called Main Export Pipeline from Baku to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan. Chechelashvili added that the precise route of that pipeline through Georgia has not yet been decided and that it may run from Baku to Supsa and from there to Ceyhan. LF

    [06] FORMER AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMNET SPEAKER DENIES PLANNING ASSASSINATION

    In a statement summarized on 11 March by Turan, Rasul Guliev rejects allegations by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry that he enlisted the advice of a former CIA employee to plan the assassination of former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 March 1999). Guliev termed the charges part of "a series of threats and intimidation" directed against the Azerbaijani opposition as a whole. He added that he and Elchibey are "united in [their] refusal to recognize the results" of the 1998 presidential poll, in which incumbent Heidar Aliev was re-elected for a second term. Guliev and Elchibey were among five prominent opposition leaders who boycotted the poll. LF

    [07] KYRGYZSTAN TO REINFORCE ITS SOUTHERN BORDERS

    First Deputy Defense Minister Major-General Ismail Isakov announced on 11 March that Kyrgyzstan will send additional troops to its borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Interfax reported. Isakov said the situation there "compels us to come to grips with border reinforcement," but he did not elaborate. With regard to the recent decision to withdraw the Kyrgyz battalion from the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan, Isakov said it has "become economically difficult" to unilaterally maintain the unit along the Tajik-Afghan border. It is unclear whether the unit that guarded the Tajik- Afghan border will be sent to the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. BP

    [08] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN

    Lawmakers met behind closed doors on 12 March to discuss claims that Uzbekistan has been advancing its borders into Kyrgyz territory, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Defense Minister General Myrzakan Subanov told the parliament that since 1996 Uzbekistan has built 27 new fortified border posts along the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. Also, Uzbekistan has deployed a special unit to guard the Kempirabad reservoir, which straddles the countries' common border. Subanov added that Uzbekistan's national army has 130,000 troops, making it the largest army in CIS Central Asia. The parliament decided to appeal to President Askar Akayev to set up a special commission to investigate the issue. BP

    [09] AKAYEV COMMENTS ON GREAT SILK ROAD

    Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, in an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 March, wrote about the "diplomacy of the Silk Road," noting that international community supports the revival of the ancient route and that Kyrgyzstan lies at the center of it. But, he said, dynamic development is necessary but is impossible without friendly ties between the countries located on the route. His country foresees development in three directions--toward immediate neighbors, toward Europe, and toward East and Southeast Asia. He said the principles of cooperation and "equal partnership" with regard to the new Silk Road should be "mutual dependence, mutual advantage, and development of long-term perspectives." Akayev noted that at the end of the 20th century, "globalization" is an indisputable fact. No country, regardless of "military or economic power," can exist in isolation, he commented. BP

    [10] KYRGYZ NATIONAL CURRENCY LOSING VALUE...

    Kyrgyzstan's national currency, the som, was trading on 11 March at 32.7 to $1, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. The som was exchanged at 30.5 to $1 at the start of March and has slowly decreased in value since then. BP

    [11] ...WHILE GOLD PRODUCTION DWINDLING

    Kyrgyzstan's biggest gold company, Kyrgyzaltyn, said gold production dropped in the first two months of 1999, Interfax reported on 11 March. The company noted an 8.3 percent drop, compared with the same period last year. The major reason is a decrease in production at the country's largest mining project, Kumtor. The Kumtor Gold Company, in which Canada's Cameco Corp. is a partner, reported a 9.4 percent decline in production in January-February. Kumtor produced 19.2 tons of gold in 1998, up 25 percent on the previous year. Kyrgyzaltyn reported it produced 21.311 tons of gold last year. BP

    [12] UZBEK TERRORISTS DETAINED IN KYRGYZSTAN?

    ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March that up to 10 Uzbek citizens have been arrested on the outskirts of Bishkek on suspicion of involvement in the 16 February bombings in Tashkent. The 10 reportedly resisted arrest. The same source later reported that the officials in the Kyrgyz Security Ministry could not confirm the report. The spokesman for the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, Joldoshbek Busurmankulov, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bishkek that his ministry has no information on the arrests. BP

    [13] KAZAKH ENVIRONMENTALIST FAVORS CAVIAR OVER OIL

    Ibragim Kushenov, the leader of Kazakhstan's Kaspi Tabigaty environmental organization, told a press conference in Almaty on 10 March that the extraction of oil from the Caspian Sea could cause an environmental disaster, Interfax reported. Kushenov said that under the Law on Specially Protected Territories, adopted in 1997, the northern section of the Caspian Sea and the Ural River have the status of nature preserve, which gives fishing priority over oil extraction. Kushenov pointed out that sturgeon live in the north part of the Caspian and that "1 ton of black caviar produced by the Atyraubalyk company costs an average of $1.2 million on the world market. 1 ton of oil costs only $60." BP

    [14] IRANIAN OFFICIAL CRITICIZES CASPIAN PIPELINE PROJECT

    Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Ali Majedi was in Ashgabat on 11 March to attend the Oil and Gas Exhibit-1999, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking at the exhibit, Majedi said an Iranian pipeline route carrying Turkmen natural gas to Turkey would save $700 million, compared with the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline. The previous day, Majedi had said in Tehran that his country opposes Turkmenistan's plan to lay a natural gas pipeline across the bed of the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan. Majedi said "Iran has a common border with Turkmenistan--it is the best and cheapest route for Turkmen gas." Majedi criticized the decision to begin construction of the pipeline before the legal status of the Caspian has been defined. Majedi added that Turkmenistan's "ignoring of Tehran's rightful misgivings are unacceptable." BP

    [15] FOREIGN COMPANIES CUT PRODUCTION AT TURKMEN OIL FIELDS

    According to London's International Oil Exchange, the U.S.'s Mobil, Britain's Monument Oil, and Ireland's Dragon Oil will cut the volume of work at Turkmen deposits by 50 percent, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The reason for that move is reportedly the high cost of the extraction and transportation of the oil from the east coast of the Caspian Sea. The same agency cites London brokers as saying Mobil and Monument wantthe Turkmen government to change the terms of development at the Garashyzlyk field and offer a more advantageous tax regime. Dragon Oil also wants the terms revised for work at the Chelken field. BP

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [16] RUSSIA'S IVANOV SIDES WITH BELGRADE ON NATO TROOPS IN KOSOVA

    Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 11 March that any international military force in Kosova should first be approved by Belgrade, dpa reported. Ivanov, who was in Tirana for talks with government officials, made it clear that Moscow sees the political and military portions of the Rambouillet peace agreement as separate issues--as does Belgrade. "The political document should be signed," he said. "But the way the implementation of the agreement will be enforced is another problem." Ivanov met with Premier Pandeli Majko and his Albanian counterpart, Paskal Milo, as well as with President Rexhep Mejdani before leaving for Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PB

    [17] UCK SEEMS AGREEABLE TO SIGNING ACCORD

    The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) gave equivocal support to the Rambouillet peace agreement on 12 March, AP reported. In a statement released after a meeting of top UCK officials--including political leader Hashim Thaqi--in the Drenica region of Kosova, the UCK said the plan "was not the solution that we would want the most. But it does not close all doors to future roads." The statement went on to say that "the future of Kosova depends mostly on the [ethnic] Albanians themselves and their cooperation with the international community." Thaqi reportedly urged "all political forces" to accept the plan. The previous day, Kosovar journalist Veton Surroi, who was also a member of the Albanian side at Rambouillet, said "if we don't sign the agreement we will be isolated from the world and our future will resemble [that of] the Kurdish people." Kosova Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova stressed his support for the peace plan, saying "we'll go to Paris to sign because there is no more time to negotiate." PB

    [18] NATO SUPREME COMMANDER WARNS OF 'DEVASTATING STRIKES'

    U.S. General Wesley Clark said on 12 March in London that NATO has a "vast air armada" ready to make a "devastating series of strikes" against Serbian targets, Reuters reported. Clark, who later flew to France for talks with government officials, said Yugoslav President Milosevic will not be allowed to "smash the civilian populace and their villages in Kosova." He said the NATO strikes will begin if Belgrade continues to block the peace accord. PB

    [19] UN REFUGEE AGENCY SAYS SOME 4,000 KOSOVARS MISSING

    The UNHCR said on 12 March that up to 4,000 ethnic Albanians are unaccounted for after fleeing fighting near their villages in southern Kosova, Reuters reported. UNHCR spokeswoman Paula Ghedini said between 800 and 1,000 people from each of the villages of Ivaja, Straza, Ljoc, and Pustenik have fled but have not arrived in nearby towns. She said abandoned camp sites have been found, adding that she believes that the people are hiding in the forests from Serbian forces. Macedonian Radio reported on 11 March that 1,200 Kosovars fled to Macedonia in the past two days. The UN high commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, said in Washington that 30, 000 people have been displaced in Kosova since the end of the Rambouillet peace talks. Meanwhile, fighting between Serbian security forces and the UCK erupted in southwestern Kosova after a respite of several months. Fierce fighting continued north of the capital, Prishtina, and in the south. PB

    [20] POPLASEN THREATENS VIOLENCE IF ATTEMPT IS MADE TO REMOVE HIM

    The sacked president of Republika Srpska, Nikola Poplasen, vowed on 11 March to stay in office and threatened violence against Western officials if they press on with efforts to remove him, AP reported. Poplasen said, "We are ready with a different kind of defense if democratic principles are not applied.... [It] will include other arguments: sticks, stones, arms, and tanks." U.S. Balkan envoy Robert Gelbard said "unfortunately we have a very sad history with terrorists like Mr. Poplasen." Gelbard said Poplasen would be held "personally responsible" for any attacks on U.S. citizens. Simon Haselock, the spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the high representative for Bosnia, said "we consider [Poplasen] to be taking a little extra time to clear his desk, which is why he is still in office." Both Bosnian Serb Premier Milorad Dodik and Zivko Radisic, the Bosnian Serb chairman of Bosnia's presidency, condemned Poplasen's statements. PB

    [21] CROATIA TO RESTORE MEMORIAL AT CONCENTRATION CAMP

    The Croatian government has said it will restore a memorial at Jasenovac, the country's infamous concentration camp where tens of thousands of people were killed during World War II, AP reported on 10 March. Premier Zlatko Matesa said during a visit to the site that the decision was "a policy of reconciliation." He said the events that took place at Jasenovac can "never be allowed to be repeated." The memorial was destroyed and the museum there looted by Serbs fleeing a Croat offensive in 1995. Jasenovac was one of 20 concentration camps run by the pro-Axis Ustasha regime during World War II. PB

    [22] ALBANIAN CENTRAL BANK TO TIGHTEN BANK REQUIREMENTS

    The Central Bank said on 11 March that it will increase supervision over financial institutions in an effort to prevent a repeat of the fraudulent pyramid schemes that led the country into chaos in 1997, Reuters reported. The bank said that it will seek new legislation regulating financial operators and that the minimum starting capital for banks will be increased from $5 million to $7 million. Pension and investment funds will also be required to have larger starting capital. PB

    [23] BALKAN 'TROIKA' AGREE ON FREE TRADE ZONE

    The presidents of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, meeting in Sinaia on 11 March, agreed that their countries will set up a free trade zone by 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest Bureau reported. In a joint declaration released on 12 March, Emil Constantinescu, Petar Stoyanov and Suleyman Demirel called on Serbs and Albanians to stop fighting and reach a settlement. They said they support ending the conflict through an agreement, noting that NATO's enlargement to southeastern Europe could contribute to stability in the region. On 11 March, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, after meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, told journalists that an inter-Balkan conference on Kosova should be convened in Bucharest or Skopje before the next round of Kosova peace talks begins on 15 March in France. Romanian Radio on 12 March quoted Plesu as saying that Belgrade has "reservations" about a Bucharest conference. MS

    [24] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON NATO TO CONTINUE EXPANSION

    In a resolution passed ahead of the NATO April Washington summit, the two chambers of the Romanian parliament on 11 March called on their parliamentary colleagues from NATO countries to support the continued enlargement of NATO. In other news, the Romanian government and France's Renault have signed a preliminary agreement for the sale of the Dacia car maker to the French company, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 11 March. MS

    [25] MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT AGAIN VOTES CONFIDENCE IN STURDZA CABINET

    The parliament on 12 March voted confidence in Ion Sturdza's cabinet, but the 52 majority was obtained through the absentee ballot of deputy Ilie Ilascu, who is imprisoned in Tiraspol, Romanian Radio reported. Observers say this may lead to a challenge over the legality of the vote in the Constitutional Court. The nine deputies representing the Christian Democratic Popular Front again boycotted the vote, their demand for four ministers having been rejected in the negotiations the previous day within the Alliance for Democracy and Reform parliamentary majority. MS

    [26] BULGARIAN PRESIDENT QUALIFIES KOSTOV'S REMARKS

    Petar Stoyanov on 11 March said that one "must not conclude from the [1 March] interview of Premier Ivan Kostov that Bulgaria is reconsidering its strategy for integration into the EU or that poverty in Bulgaria is caused by a lack of sympathy from the rich West," Reuters reported. Stoyanov added that responsibility for Bulgaria's poverty rests with "the Communist Party, which brought us to this plight." Reuters said the statement is a move to ease tensions between Sofia and the EU sparked by Kostov's sharp criticism of the union in an interview with the agency at the beginning of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 1999). MS

    [27] BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO MEMBERSHIP

    Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told a NATO-sponsored seminar in Borovets on 11 March that her country deserves NATO membership because of its cooperation with the alliance over Kosova and its need for protection against threats posed by the conflict in that region, Reuters reported. Mihailova said the Kosova conflict threatens to spill over to other parts of the region. She added that Bulgaria also faces an influx of refugees and increased organized crime and arms trafficking. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [28] UKRAINE'S INDEPENDENT MEDIA SUFFER MORE WOES

    By Lily Hyde

    Ukraine's non-government media have suffered a series of recent setbacks that have further reduced the dwindling number of independent media outlets in the country.

    Late last month, the trouble-plagued opposition daily "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication after it ran out of money. Another opposition newspaper, "Polityka," announced that the state printing press was refusing to publish it, despite a court ruling in the newspaper's favor. And the state broadcasting company temporarily silenced a private TV channel, while another private TV channel claims it is being harassed and intimidated.

    These four cases are the latest chapters in a saga of political and financial problems encountered by independent media in Ukraine.

    'KIEVSKIE VEDOMOSTI': According to Dmytro Chekalkin, president of the broadcasting arm of the Kievskie Vedomosti media company, the newspaper does not have the financial resources to continue publishing. The newspaper's deputy editor-in-chief, Irina Titova, said staff wages have not been paid for the last four months of publication and working conditions have become intolerable, as staff have access only to three phone lines, four computers, and no news wire service or Internet access.

    "Kievskie Vedomosti" has been dogged by previous misfortunes, most of which it claims were due to political persecution for its oppositionist editorial content. Chekalkin said a general decline in advertising and unfair competition were major factors in the newspaper's demise. Other Ukrainian newspapers, he noted, are subsidized by companies close to the presidential administration and the current government and sell for only 5 or 6 kopecks (less than 2 U.S. cents) per issue.

    Titova said the editorial staff decided to suspend publication in an attempt to attract attention to the newspaper's plight. She said the newspaper wants its shareholders to pay attention to its problems. The newspaper's major shareholders are the Ukrainian companies Dendi, Dovira, Ukrrichflot, and Pryvatbank.

    'POLITYKA': The same week that "Kievskie Vedomosti" stopped publishing, "Polityka" announced that the printing house Pressa Ukrainy was refusing to resume printing the Kyiv-based weekly.

    Last November, the state printing house received a Pechersk district court order banning it from printing "Polityka." A Kyiv city court decision early last month reversed that ruling.

    Editor-in-chief Oleh Lyashko said the newspaper has paid Pressa Ukrainy an advance of 28,000 hryvna (about $7,200) and provided it with 25 tons of paper. Lyashko said repeated letters and visits failed to extract any explanation from Pressa Ukrainy: "From February 8 we have all legal right to put out the newspaper, but unfortunately to date the newspaper hasn't been issued [by Pressa Ukrainy]. Why? Because Pressa Ukrainy, with which we have worked for three years, now refuses to renew the contract with the newspaper for 1999 and has given absolutely no explanation for that refusal."

    While Lyashko believes the presidential administration is behind the move, an unnamed Pressa Ukrainy spokesman said the company's decision was motivated by the newspaper's financial unreliability. Last year, the spokesman said "Polityka" twice broke its contract by stopping publication.

    In the meantime,. "Polityka" is due to restart publication this week under a new agreement reached with another publishing house.

    NART: On the same day that "Kievskie Vedomosti" suspended publication, the private TV channel National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NART) was taken off the air because--its owners claim--of its independent political stance. Volodymyr Tsendrovskyy, president of the Ukrainian TV Union and a founder of NART, predicted that this will be only the first in a chain of private channels to be taken off the air. He called it a "rehearsal for political censorship and economic dictatorship in the Ukrainian TV market."

    Tsendrovskyy admitted that NART owes 160,000 hryvna (about 41,000 dollars) to the Ukrainian Radio and Television Broadcasting concern, the state company that controls Ukraine's airwaves. But he argued that the figure is insignificant compared with the debts of many other broadcasting companies, such as the state-run Television and radio channels, which he said owe the state broadcasters 62 million hryvna.

    NART resumed broadcasting on 23 February after reaching an agreement on paying off its debt. But NART officials still maintain they are victims of political harassment since no other broadcasters owing debts have been taken off the air, even temporarily.

    STB: The private television network STB issued a statement last week to President Leonid Kuchma, saying its executives have been attacked or threatened and requesting the government to increase protection.

    An STB official said in the most recent incident, armed attackers broke into the Kyiv apartment of STB's commercial director and forced the man and his pregnant wife to the floor at gunpoint. In searching the apartment, the gunmen ignored money and valuables, apparently looking for documents. Several days earlier, the station official said, an STB cameraman was robbed of his camera and cassettes by unidentified attackers.

    The official says harassment intensified after the network broadcast investigative reports about illegal deals in Ukraine's lucrative industries that allegedly involve powerful business groups close to the government.

    The author is Kyiv-based contributor to RFE/RL.

    12-03-99


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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