|Wednesday, 22 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 54, 99-03-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 54, 18 March 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 EX-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IN ARMENIA FAIL TO FORM ELECTION ALLIANCEVazgen Manukian, chairman of the center-right National Democratic Union (AZhM), said in Yerevan on 17 March that former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian has declined Manukian's proposal to form an alliance to contend the 30 May parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Demirchian's center-left People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) and the AZhM are among five parties that observers believe have the greatest chance of surmounting the 5 percent barrier to parliamentary representation under the proportional system. Demirchian and Manukian were among the 12 candidates in the March 1998 presidential poll. Manukian polled third place in the first round, and Demirchian lost to acting president Robert Kocharian in the runoff. Manukian on 17 March also ruled out an electoral alliance with Paruyr Hairikian's Self- Determination Union. Hairikian withdrew his candidacy in the 1996 presidential election in favor of Manukian. LF
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS AGAINST 'PRESSURE'Khosrov Harutunian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 17 March that he will not tolerate "public pressure" on the parliament to adopt in the second reading an opposition-sponsored bill lowering energy prices. Hundreds of opposition supporters picketed the parliament building on 15 March when the bill underwent its first reading. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OIL CONSORTIUM PLANS TO DOUBLE OUTPUTIn a press release issued in Baku on 17 March, David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, the only international consortium at present extracting off-shore Caspian oil, said the consortium plans to double output in 1999 to 5.2 million metric tons, Turan and Dow Jones Newswires reported. Woodward noted that the two existing export pipelines from Baku via Russia and Georgia have a combined throughput capacity of 10 million tons. The Main Export Pipeline, the optimum route for which he said the AIOC has not yet decided, will be economically viable only when other consortia or other countries (such as Kazakhstan), begin to export oil. That is unlikely to happen before 2003, Woodward predicted. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA DISCUSS DEFENSE COOPERATIONProceeding on the assumption that the Baku-Ceyhan route will ultimately be chosen for the Main Export Pipeline, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev and Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze discussed in Tbilisi on 17 March creating a legal basis for cooperation between their two countries on protecting oil and gas export pipelines, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 17 March, Abiev said that the Russian military bases in Georgia pose a threat to Azerbaijan, according to Interfax. He also expressed displeasure that a Russian army facility in Tbilisi is engaged in repairing tanks for the Armenian army. Abiev has held talks with his Georgian counterpart, David Tevzadze, and with Georgian parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania. LF
 FOUR SUSPECTS IN TASHKENT BOMBINGS ARRESTED IN UKRAINEUkrainian police have arrested four Uzbek nationals suspected of involvement in the Tashkent bombings last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February, 1999), Interfax reported. The four were apprehended in Kyiv. In a 16 March statement, Amnesty International names two of the detainees as Yusif Ruzimuradov and Muhammed Bekjon, both members of Uzbekistan's banned Erk Party. Bekjon is the brother of Mohammed Solih, whom Uzbek President Islam Karimov has named as an organizer of the bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). BP
 KAZAKHSTAN NOT TO WITHDRAW BATTALION FROM TAJIKISTANKazakhstan's border guard chief, Major-General Toktasyn Buzubayev, said at a press conference in Almaty on 17 March that his country will not withdraw its battalion from Tajikistan, Interfax reported. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have withdrawn their troops from the CIS peacekeeping force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 November 1998 and 23 February 1999), leaving only battalions from Tajikistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan guarding the Tajik-Afghan border. Interfax also reported that the size of Kazakhstan's battalion in Tajikistan has been reduced from 500 to 300 men. BP
 NEW CHAIRMAN APPOINTED TO KAZAKHSTAN'S SUPREME COURT COUNCILKazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed Igor Rogov as chairman of the Supreme Court Council, ITAR- TASS reported on 18 March. Nazarbayev had held that post for three years, but a constitutional amendment adopted last year forbids the president from holding this post. BP
 TURKMENISTAN TO INTRODUCE VISA REGIME FOR MOST CIS CITIZENSTurkmenistan is to require citizens of most CIS states to obtain a visa before visiting that country, Interfax reported on 17 March. Turkmenistan is the first country to announce it is withdrawing from the CIS Free Travel Agreement. A "source" told Interfax that one reason for the decision is that "mass migration and other travel are becoming increasingly uncontrollable." Another reason, according to the same source, is that Turkmenistan has become a haven for those wanted for crimes elsewhere in the CIS. Citizens from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are exempt from the new requirement, which is expected to go into effect beginning 9 June. BP
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEBATES UZBEK GAS SUPPLIESLawmakers on 17 March discussed purchasing natural gas from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. Sagyn Ainakulov, the director of the state gas company, Kyrgyzgaz, said that as of 1 March Kyrgyzstan owes Uzbekistan more than $6 million for gas supplies. Several deputies said they have reviewed the contracts with Uzbekistan for gas supplies and have objections to its terms. They noted that Kyrgyzstan pays $50 per 1,000 cubic meters and has resorted to settling its debt through shipments of flour. That flour sells for $220 per ton, but the deputies claimed that the world price for 1,000 cubic meters of gas is $38 and for 1 ton of flour $320. They argued that the government and state gas company are criminally negligent for agreeing to such conditions. BP
 MORE TAJIK OPPOSITION MEMBERS RECEIVE GOVERNMENT POSTSAnother five members of the United Tajik Opposition have been given government positions in line with terms of the Tajik Peace Accord signed in June 1997, ITAR-TASS and AP reported on 17 March. Abdunabi Sattarov from the democratic wing of the UTO was appointed deputy premier. The other posts given to the UTO are the deputy heads of the Health Ministry, the State Statistical Board, and the Special Property Committee as well as the head of the Geological Board. However, no decision has been taken on the UTO nominations for defense minister and head of the State Committee for Industry. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 RUGOVA SAYS TALKS 'OVER' FOR KOSOVARSShadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 17 March in a telephone interview from Paris that the conference on the political future of Kosova "ended successfully" for the Kosovars when they agreed to sign the Rambouillet agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). He stressed that the outcome of the meeting now depends on the international mediators. Rugova added that he is confident that the international community and NATO are serious about their possible intervention against Serbia. He noted that the Kosovar delegation's top priority is to "end the massacres in Kosova as quickly as possible." In Prishtina, his Democratic League of Kosova issued an appeal to NATO to intervene to prevent further attacks by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanian civilians. PM
 CONFERENCE TO END SOON?British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, will meet in Paris on the evening of 18 March to decide whether to continue the conference. Kosovar delegation member Veton Surroi said that he and his colleagues are ready to sign the Rambouillet accord and "pack our bags and go home." U.S. envoy Chris Hill told reporters that the Kosovars have done all that mediators could expect of them. He added that Serbian representatives remain intransigent and that he sees little hope for a breakthrough. Russian negotiator Boris Mayorskii, however, said that hope for progress remains as long as the talks continue. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 18 March that "we appeal to Belgrade to sign" the Rambouillet accord, Reuters reported. PM
 SERBIAN BUILDUP CONTINUESSurroi also said in Paris on 18 March that "the Serbs...have not participated in negotiations here but, as we have seen with the troop [increase] in Kosova, they are 'negotiating' on the ground and [in effect] saying 'no, we don't want to [talk], we actually want to resolve this by war,'" Reuters reported. The London "Independent" quoted NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark as saying in Washington that Serbian forces are preparing to "resume the conflict on a very large scale." Unnamed Western officials in Prishtina told the "International Herald Tribune" that the Serbian forces' goal is to secure the rail line running through Kosova to the Macedonian border. One official added that the Serbs "may also be testing the threshold of Western tolerance for their actions." PM
 ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SERBS 'PREPARING NEW MASSACRE'Paskal Milo, speaking to Albanian Television on 17 March in Paris, said the recent concentration of Serbian security forces within Kosova means that Belgrade is preparing for a military offensive against the ethnic Albanian civilian population. Milo stressed that "there are clear signs that they are preparing for a new large-scale massacre." He appealed to "the international community, the Contact Group countries, [and] NATO... to take urgent measures to prevent the Serbian authorities from repeating their previous massacres," dpa reported. FS
 ALBRIGHT INVITES KOSOVARS TO WASHINGTONU.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has invited Hashim Thaci and other members of the Kosovar delegation to the Paris talks to discuss their political goals with her in Washington, AP reported on 18 March. Thaci and his colleagues have accepted. State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters that "we want to develop a good relationship with [the Kosovar leaders] as they transform themselves into a politically- oriented organization" in a peace-time environment. PM
 COVER-UP OF RECAK MASSACRE?"A row has erupted over the long- awaited report of a Finnish [team of pathologists'] investigation into the killing of more than 40 ethnic Albanians" in the Kosovar village of Recak in January," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported on 18 March. The newspaper added that "Helena Ranta, head of the Finnish team, refused to label the killings a 'massacre,' saying that such a conclusion lay outside her competence. But she later admitted that the killings had been 'a crime against humanity.'" She also refused to say who she believes shot the civilians. The "International Herald Tribune" wrote that unnamed EU officials "had asked the forensic team to withhold from the press and public some of its most potentially inflammatory findings." The daily noted that unnamed officials of Germany, which holds the rotating EU chair, "ordered the Finnish team not to release a summary of its investigation, which includes details about how some of the victims appeared to have died." PM
 SERBIA BANS KOSOVAR DAILYSerbian police on 17 March confiscated from kiosks in Prishtina and other towns copies of the mass-circulation daily "Kosova Sot." The action followed a Prishtina district court decision to "ban" the paper and fine it some $150,000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). The staff of "Kosova Sot" said in a statement that they intend to ignore the ban and continue to publish. PM
 BELGRADE COURT RAPS MONTENEGROMeeting in Belgrade on 17 March, the federal Constitutional Court called "unconstitutional" a recent resolution of the Montenegrin parliament stating that Montenegrin conscripts are not obliged to serve in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 ALBANIAN POLICE BREAK UP BIG COFFEE SMUGGLING NETWORKAlbanian police have arrested 12 suspects in a major coffee- smuggling ring, including seven customs officers and three policemen, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 18 March. Police seized more than 270 tons of coffee with a market value of $900,000 in a warehouse in the village of Sauk, near Tirana. Among those arrested was Janaq Murati, the owner of the major coffee importing company Murati do Brazil, and his brother. An unnamed police source told the newspaper that "top government officials" were involved in the smuggling network. He did not name those officials on the grounds that any disclosure at this time could adversely affect ongoing investigations. Secret Service Chief Agim Tirana told dpa that "we are encouraged by this success and want to keep up our operations against all kinds of smuggling activities in Albania." FS
 HERZEGOVINIAN POLICE ON STRIKEEthnic Croatian members of the police force in Mostar-Neretva County walked off their jobs on 16 March and did not report for work the next day in protest over the assassination attempt on Jozo Leutar, who is the Bosnian federation's deputy interior minister (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). In Zagreb, Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said that Croatia expects the Bosnian authorities to "respond firmly" to the bombing. He did not, however, repeat charges made by Herzegovinian leader Ante Jelavic that the attack was linked to the Muslim political leadership, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. PM
 CLINTON TO VISIT SLOVENIAA White House spokesman said on 17 March that President Bill Clinton will visit Slovenia in June after he attends the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized countries in Cologne, Germany. PM
 ROMANIAN NATIONAL CURRENCY DROPS SHARPLYAs the leu dropped sharply on 17 March, Premier Radu Vasile met with National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu to discuss the issue, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Mircea Ciumara, deputy chairman of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, said the bank is likely to intervene to stop the trend. The official rate dropped from 14.040 lei to $1 early on 17 March to 14,900 lei at closing, while authorized dealers charged 15,000-20,000. Also on 17 March, the four largest trade union confederations, which plan to launch a general strike in the second half of April, met with the Standing Bureau of the Chamber of Deputies to submit their demands. Those demands range from amending the budget to allow for salary indexation to curtailing the prerogatives of the State Property Fund in the privatization drive. MS
 ROMANIAN CUSTOMS CHIEF UNDER INVESTIGATIONPolice are investigating Nini Sapunaru, chief of the General Customs Directorate, who is suspected of having failed to forward to the Finance Ministry a license for a duty-free company operating at Bucharest airport and of causing the company losses totaling 1 billion lei ($71,000), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The company was temporarily closed in 1998 under suspicion of defrauding the state, but later a court allowed it to resume operating. Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, chairman of the coalition National Liberal Party (of which Sapunaru is a member), said he is convinced Sapunaru is "innocent." Ionescu-Quintus added, however, that he will not intervene in the investigation. MS
 WORLD BANK OFFICIAL MEETS LUCINSCHI, STURDZARobert Grawe, World Bank regional director, met with President Petru Lucinschi and Premier Ion Sturdza in Chisinau on 17 March, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Grawe said that lending to Moldova may resume "within weeks, " following a visit to Moldova by a group of experts from the bank to assess the situation. He said the resumption of lending depends on whether the new government will honor the obligations assumed by its predecessor. Lucinschi assured Grawe that "there is no continuity problem" and that "reforms have become irreversible." The same day, Sturdza and Grawe signed an accord for a $15 million World Bank credit aimed at restructuring public administration. MS
 BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS DEBATE ON KOSOVASocialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov on 16 March said that Premier Ivan Kostov's statements in the parliament earlier that day about the cabinet's position on the conflict in Kosova "do not comply with the national interest"(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). He added that his party will demand a debate in the parliament. Parvanov said the government has been conducting negotiations with NATO "behind the back" of the legislature and "in violation of the constitution." It has also been "making commitments that may have fatal consequences for Bulgaria's national security," he argued. MS
 CZECH PREMIER IN BULGARIAMilos Zeman and his Bulgarian host, Ivan Kostov, have signed an agreement on combating organized crime and terrorism, AP reported on 17 March. The same day, Finance Ministers Ivo Svoboda and Muravei Radev signed an accord on mutual protection of investments. Zeman told Kostov that Prague has suspended a plan to introduce entry visas for Bulgaria and Romania. He also expressed support for Bulgaria's bid to join NATO and the EU. MS
[C] END NOTE
 FEDERATION COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP SKURATOVby Floriana Fossato
The surprise 17 March vote in Russia's Federation Council to overwhelmingly reject the resignation of Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has added a new element to a story ripe with political intrigue and economic implications.
Skuratov abruptly tendered his resignation to President Boris Yeltsin last month, citing health reasons. For weeks, he was hospitalized at Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital. His resignation, however, came just one day after he had revealed that Russia's Central Bank had been channeling billions of dollars in reserves through an obscure off-shore company. Shortly after Skuratov's resignation, security forces raided companies owned by businessman-turned- politician Boris Berezovskii, known for his powerful Kremlin connections.
Yeltsin immediately accepted Skuratov's resignation. Speaking by telephone with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 16 March, Yeltsin stressed the need to quickly appoint Skuratov's successor. The Russian Constitution states, however, that accepting the prosecutor-general's resignation is the prerogative of the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.
The next day, a healthy-looking Skuratov appeared before the Council and told senators that he is ready to continue his work if "you extend your trust and support to me." The vote was 142 to six to keep Skuratov in his job.
Skuratov acknowledged that health was not the reason behind his resignation. Without naming names, he said powerful forces had driven a wedge between him and Yeltsin, forcing him to resign. His revelations lend credence to rumors widespread in Moscow in the last few weeks that he was being blackmailed. Gennadii Seleznev, the Communist speaker of the State Duma--today confirmed those rumors, saying there have been "direct threats from the mass media" to reveal compromising information about Skuratov.
"A big contribution to the resignation process came from well-known oligarchs, who have their own interest in criminal cases linked with corruption in top power posts," Skuratov told the upper house of parliament. "Among those cases are, above all, facts concerning [airline] Aeroflot, [car dealer] Avtovaz, private security company Atoll, and others. At the time [of the resignation], my personal contacts with the president also ceased. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I made mistakes; but I was under the impression that I lost the president's support. In the end, facts surrounding my personal life were released. They were obtained by illegal methods, in order to put pressure on me. When I sent my [resignation] letter to the president, I hoped to attract the attention of the head of state to the facts taking place around me and the Prosecutor-General's Office."
All the Federation Council members who took the floor on 17 March called for a vote in an effort to keep Skuratov in his job. Some--like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev--went so far as to tell colleagues that the upper house was about to vote, not only on Skuratov's future, but on the very values its members support. They argued that senators would vote "for the victory of criminals or for the victory of the law."
Sources in the Federation Council noted, however, that most of the governors taking the floor in support of Skuratov are close to the Communist Party and that some are themselves under investigation for financial wrongdoings, such as Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev. According to those sources, this signals a possible alliance between Skuratov and Yeltsin's communist foes.
Skuratov's resignation unleashed an outpouring of speculation in Russia's media and political circles. Virtually no one in Moscow believed failing health was the real reason behind Skuratov's resignation. Moscow's leading newspapers on 17 March ran front-page articles predicting that the Federation Council--after listening to Skuratov's reasons for his move-- would quickly vote to accept his resignation.
Following a meeting of leading television and media executives on 16 March, the director of Russian Public Television (ORT), Igor Shabdurasulov, said senators should accept Skuratov's resignation immediately and without discussion. ORT is only partly under the control of its major shareholder, the state. Its management is reportedly controlled by Berezovskii, who is fighting with the government and parliament to maintain his grip on the network, which is Russia's largest.
Political analysts say the Federation Council 17 March vote--openly contradicting Yeltsin's approval of Skuratov's resignation--indicates that a new conflict between the president and the parliament could be in the making.
According to influential Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, the vote "creates a precedent for the independence of the Prosecutor-General's Office from the Kremlin. The consequences could be positive, but also negative. We'll see."
Yeltsin's representative in the Federation Council, Yurii Yarov, said Skuratov's decision to remain in his job with the support of the Federation Council is "strange and surprising."
Sergei Markov, director of Moscow's Institute of Political Studies, told RFE/RL that "it is absolutely clear that a new, serious conflict is brewing. Yeltsin did sign Skuratov's resignation letter and the Federation Council has just voted against his decision."
Markov noted that "what happens next is unclear. The constitution gives no indication in this regard because the law usually includes only rational developments. It is possible that a special commission will be appointed to find a compromise and will try to solve the controversy with political methods."
The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty