|Tuesday, 21 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 56, 99-03-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 56, 23 March 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA ANTICIPATES OSCE PRESSURE ON AZERBAIJANSpeaking at separate press conferences in Yerevan on 22 March, the foreign ministers of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, Vartan Oskanian and Naira Melkumian, predicted that during his visit to the Transcaucasus in April, OSCE chairman-in-office Knut Vollebaek will try to persuade Azerbaijan to accept the most recent OSCE plan to end the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Azerbaijan has rejected that plan, which calls for Azerbaijan and Karabakh to form a "common state." Melkumian said the plan "has not been and will not be changed" to accommodate Azerbaijan. Melkumian added that a "very serious shift" has occurred over the past year in the international community's attitude toward the conflict in favor of a settlement of the conflict avoiding what she described as "two extremes" of outright independence or conventional autonomy for Karabakh. LF
 ARMENIA WARNS AGAINST TURKISH BASE IN AZERBAIJAN...Noting that Azerbaijan and Turkey have already begun discussions on whether Azerbaijan should host a Turkish military base on its territory, Oskanian warned that the opening of such a base would disrupt the military balance of forces in the region and force Armenia to take unspecified appropriate moves in response, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Oskanian dismissed repeated Azerbaijani claims that Armenia's military cooperation with Russia and the deployment at Russia's military base in Armenia of Russian arms pose a threat to Azerbaijan. He said the base in question is intended solely to protect the external borders of Armenia and the CIS and that Armenia will have no access to the weaponry in question if the war with Azerbaijan resumes. LF
 ...WHILE AZERBAIJAN AGAIN CONDEMNS RUSSIAN ARMS SHIPMENTS TO ARMENIAIn a 20 March letter addressed to Russian President Yeltsin, Heidar Aliev expressed concern at the recent deployment at Russia's military base in Armenia of MiG-29 fighter aircraft and S-300 air defense systems, Interfax and Turan reported. Aliev wrote that those arms shipments and the deepening military cooperation between Moscow and Yerevan "contradict the letter and spirit of the agreement on friendship and cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan" and upset the military balance in the region. He further deplored the failure to clarify responsibility for previous shipments of Russian arms worth $1 billion to Armenia. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 March, Aliev's military adviser General Tofik Agaguseinov similarly argued that the buildup of arms at Russia's military base in Armenia violates Russia's allocation under the Conventional Forces in Europe flank agreement. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ISSUES DECREE ON FIGHTING TERRORISMIn his weekly radio broadcast on 22 March, Eduard Shevardnadze announced that he has signed a decree on intensifying anti- terrorism measures in Georgia. Referring to the previous day's failed attempt to assassinate Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Shevardnadze also proposed a coordinated campaign against terrorism throughout the Caucasus, Reuters reported. It is unclear whether the first target in Georgia of the new measures will be the ethnic Georgian White Legion guerrillas who over the past year have killed several dozen ethnic Abkhaz police and civilians in Abkhazia's Gali Raion. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 March suggested that Tbilisi is seriously concerned at the possible export of Wahhabism from Chechnya to contiguous regions of Georgia populated by Kists, who are ethnically close to the Vainakhs. LF
 ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER VISITS GEORGIAOn a one-day stopover in Tbilisi on 22 March following a two-day visit to Russia, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss bilateral relations, including expanding trade and economic ties as well as the situation in the Caucasus and the Middle East. They also signed an agreement on expanding cooperation, including in the military sphere, according to Caucasus Press. Netanyahu told reporters that Georgia offers excellent potential for Israeli investors, particularly in the energy and transport sectors, AP reported. LF
 GEORGIAN SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF UN EMPLOYEEA Georgian court sentenced 21-year-old Zurab Bregladze to life imprisonment for the murder last July of Maria Magdalena Wieworska, a Polish woman employed at the UN mission in Tbilisi, Western agencies reported on 22 March. LF
 TURKMEN-IRANIAN RELATIONS ASSESSEDTurkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Iran's visiting Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani in Ashgabat on 22 March, Russian agencies reported. The talks focused on ways of expanding regional cooperation. On behalf of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Mohajerani invited Niyazov to attend the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Tehran in June. LF
 UZBEKISTAN SETS DEADLINE FOR RECEIPT OF NEW PASSPORTSUzbek Interior Ministry official Badriddin Shoriskhiev on 19 March warned that anyone who fails to exchange his old Soviet passport for a new Uzbek one by 1 January 2000 will be deprived of Uzbek citizenship, AP-Blitz reported from Dushanbe on 23 March. Shoriskhiev said some 12 million people have handed in their old passports since the new ones were introduced in 1995, but 1.8 million have not yet done so. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 HOLBROOKE, MILOSEVIC 'BREAK OFF' TALKSU.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "broke off" talks on 23 March in Belgrade aimed at averting NATO air strikes against Serbian targets, the BBC reported. Holbrooke returned to the U.S. embassy. It is unclear if he will again meet with the Serbian leader. Referring to his first round of negotiations with Milosevic the previous day, Holbrooke told reporters: "I would be misleading you if I suggested that the talks resulted in any substantial and significant change of situation." In Paris, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said: "I am forced to say that this morning I don't see any opening which could interrupt the course of events" toward air strikes. In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said President Boris Yeltsin received a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton about the crisis in Kosova, but the spokesman did not give details or say when Yeltsin received the missive. PM
 NATO 'WAITING FOR THE WORD'Officials of the Atlantic alliance are "waiting for the word" from Holbrooke as to whether he has achieved a breakthrough in his Belgrade talks, the BBC reported from Brussels on 23 March. If Holbrooke leaves the Serbian capital without success, NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana will discuss with the leaders of alliance member countries when to launch air strikes. The BBC also quoted British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook as saying "this is for real." The previous day, NATO ambassadors agreed to give Solana the authority to target army bases and concentrations of armored vehicles--as well as air defense units--in and around Kosova during the first wave of air strikes. PM
 CONFLICT IN KOSOVA 'ESCALATING BY THE HOUR'In the Drenica region on 23 March, Serbian forces continued their offensive for the fourth consecutive day, Reuters reported. Prishtina is "swarming with police" and the atmosphere in Kosova's capital is "hair-raising," a BBC reporter said there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). She noted that police are "aggressively" manning checkpoints surrounding the city, which makes it difficult for most people to get in or out of Prishtina. Many residents are nonetheless considering whether to try to flee and join the ranks of the 25,000 people who became refugees or displaced persons in recent days. The conflict in Kosova is "escalating by the hour," she continued, and the Yugoslav army is "preparing for all-out war." One person died in a series of explosions in ethnic Albanian-owned restaurants in Prishtina on 22 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 WHAT HAPPENED IN SKENDERAJ?Several Kosovars from Skenderaj told AP on 22 March that masked Serbs "executed" at least 20 ethnic Albanians in that town over the weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Other witnesses said that Serbian police arrested and beat an unspecified additional number of Kosovar civilians. One girl told "The Washington Post" that Serbian soldiers beat her mother and brother and threatened to "massacre you [and] burn you all." The stories could not be independently confirmed. In Prishtina, Colonel Bozidar Filic, who is a spokesman for the paramilitary police, said that "Albanian terrorists and separatists are trying [with made-up stories] about mass killings to provoke an international reaction and increase the pressure on Yugoslavia." PM
 SERBIAN FORCES LOOT, TORCH VILLAGESSerbian forces systematically looted and torched ethnic Albanian villages in the Skenderaj area on 22 March, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) commander Suleyman Selimi said the Serbs "are using more modern weapons" than they did in the crackdown of 1998. He noted that "the kind of tanks [the Serbs are now using] are more sophisticated and they are using new mortars as well as ground-to-ground missiles." From the Vushtrri region, the "Los Angeles Times" quoted a witness as saying that the Serbian forces rob homes and destroy home appliances and other goods that they cannot carry off. The daily added that the Serbs apply "scorched earth tactics" to ethnic Albanian settlements but that "Serbian farmers' homes haven't been touched." PM
 SFOR INSPECTS BOSNIAN SERB AIR DEFENSESNATO troops inspected air defense systems on Bosnian Serb military bases in Banja Luka "in conjunction with the crisis in Kosova," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 March. OSCE representative Robert Barry discussed the situation in Kosova with Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency. In Sarajevo, the U.S. embassy warned U.S. citizens in the Republika Srpska to be prepared to leave Bosnian Serb territory "on very short notice." PM
 ALBANIA WARNS OF 'GRAVE CONSEQUENCES'Officials at the Foreign Ministry handed a note to the Yugoslav charge d'affaires in Tirana on 22 March to protest recent border violations by Yugoslav troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). The next day, the ministry said in a statement that border violations are continuing and that "these actions have grave consequences for stability on the border and beyond." The statement added that "the government calls on all Albanians irrespective of their political ideas to be ready to face this situation with determination and [firmness] in the interest of the fatherland and the nation." FS
 WASHINGTON TO CONSIDER ALBANIAN REQUESTU.S. State Department spokesman James Foley told Reuters that NATO is considering an Albanian request to hold a special North Atlantic Council meeting focusing on Albanian security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Foley said that "we understand that Albania is concerned about the problem of spillover of violence into their territory and coping with the possible influx of refugees." Albania currently is home to 18,500 refugees from Kosova. FS
 MAJKO AND THACI PLEDGE TO INCREASE COOPERATIONAlbanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and the UCK's Hashim Thaci, who headed the Kosovar delegation to the Rambouillet talks, agreed in Tirana on 22 March to promote cooperation and to better coordinate policy between politicians in Albania and Kosova. Thaci and other UCK representatives, who arrived in Tirana from Paris on 20 March, will try to cross illegally into Kosova from Albania in the next few days, unnamed government sources told dpa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). Yugoslav authorities have issued warrants for their arrest. FS
 ALBANIAN COURT FREES 'ROBIN HOOD' FIGUREA Tirana court on 22 March ordered that Vlora gang leader Zani Caushi be released from jail. The court sentenced Caushi for illegal arms possession but ruled he has served that sentence in pre- trial detention since his arrest in 1997. The court handed down the same sentence to four members of Zani's gang. Seven other members of the group received prison terms of between three and 15 years for crimes ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping. Some prosecution witnesses failed to appear in court during the trial, which began last fall, while others contradicted their previous testimony, ATSH reported. Observers suggested that Zani's friends in Vlora intimidated some of the witnesses. The opposition press, however, has repeatedly accused the ruling Socialist Party of having links to Caushi and seeking to ensure his release. FS
 ROMANIAN PREMIER INTENSIFIES ECONOMIC DISCUSSIONSRadu Vasile on 22 March met with the World Bank's director for Romania, Andrew Vorking, to discuss the progress of negotiations between Romanian officials and a bank delegation that began last week in Bucharest. If the bank agrees to renew lending by granting Romania a $300 million loan, the IMF is likely to approve a $500 million loan. Vorking and Vasile agreed that the main priorities must be the restructuring of the bank system, the privatization of viable enterprises, and the closure of loss-making companies. The same day, Vasile met with the leaders of the main trade union confederations, which are threatening industrial action. A government team will continue negotiations with those union leaders on 23 March. Finally, the leaders of the parties represented in the ruling coalition decided on 22 March to submit to the legislature a law on speeding up privatization and to request a vote of confidence, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 CONSTANTINESCU MEETS LEADERS OF MAIN OPPOSITIONPresident Emil Constantinescu on 23 March met with his predecessor, Ion Iliescu, and other leaders of the main opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) to discuss ways to overcome the country's economic and social crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said after the meeting that his party will support a government program that takes into consideration PDSR's views, but he noted that if the situation continues to deteriorate, the only solution will be early elections. A meeting chaired by Constantinescu and attended by representatives of all parties and organizations taking part in ongoing talks is scheduled for 31 March. Also on 22 March, the PDSR criticized Constantinescu's support of possible NATO intervention in Kosova, saying it amounts to "a declaration of war" on Yugoslavia. The opposition Party of Romanian National Unity said Constantinescu is "involving Romania in regional conflicts without the authorization of the parliament" and thus "threatening the country's territorial integrity. "MS
 LUCINSCHI CALLS REFERENDUM ON PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEMPresident Petru Lucinschi on 22 March issued a decree calling for a non-binding referendum on introducing a presidential system, Infotag and Reuters reported. Under the proposed constitutional change, the president would be responsible for the appointment of the premier (which is now a prerogative of the parliament) and for the government's actions. The decree explains that "inefficient management of public affairs" and the "evasion of responsibility" on the part of the government, the parliament, and the judiciary are "damaging political stability," the general public's interests, and Moldova's "international image." The decision on whether to amend the constitution rests with the parliament, which must pass the amendment by a two-thirds majority. The referendum is to be held on 23 May, simultaneously with local elections. MS
 TURKISH PRESIDENT IN BULGARIASuleyman Demirel on 22 March told journalists after talks with his Bulgarian counterpart, Petar Stoyanov, that "NATO without Bulgaria and Romania is unthinkable," pledging to lobby at the April Washington summit for both countries' admission to the organization. Demirel praised Bulgaria's treatment of its ethnic Turkish minority. With regard to the Kosova crisis, he said that "when diplomacy fails, there is an obligation to use force." Demirel also met with Premier Ivan Kostov to discuss economic cooperation in transportation infrastructure, power engineering projects, and customs. Foreign Ministers Nadezhda Mihailova and Ismail Cem signed an accord banning the use of anti-personnel mines. MS
 EU SAYS BULGARIA MUST FIX ECONOMY, CLOSE NUCLEAR PLANTThe European Commission on 22 March said Bulgaria must speed up economic reforms and abide by the promise to close down the Kozloduy nuclear plant if it wants to start talks on joining the EU by 2001, Reuters quoted Francois Lammoureux, who is in charge of the commission's relations with applicant states, as saying. Lammoureux is on a two-day visit to Sofia to review the country's progress in meeting membership criteria. He has rejected the Bulgarian government's plans to seek a revision of the 1993 agreement with the EU on closing the Kozloduy plant. MS
 BULGARIAN ARMY SIZE FURTHER CUTThe government on 22 March approved a blueprint providing for a reduction of the army to 45,000 troops within five years, BTA and Reuters reported. The previous day, a figure of 50,000 was named (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999), while an earlier plan envisaged cutting the army to 75,000 by 2010. Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev told journalists that the plan is in line with "the government's efforts to match admission criteria for NATO and the EU, provide stability in the region, and protect national security." MS
[C] END NOTE
 AFTER THE BOMBS FALLby Patrick Moore
Top Western officials continue to make public statements to warn Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that NATO's "patience is at an end" and that "time is running out" for him to sign the Rambouillet accords. At the time of going to press, it remains unclear whether there will be air strikes or whether the current huffing-and-puffing will come to nothing, as has often been the case in recent months.
It is equally unclear whether any NATO member states are prepared to send in ground troops if Serbian forces continue what appears to be a massive ethnic-cleansing operation in Kosova itself. The Serbian forces seem, in fact, to be taunting the West, as a Serbian soldier near Skenderaj suggested when he recently commented to reporters: "See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?"
Questions also remain as to what might happen were Serbian authority in Kosova actually to collapse and the Kosovars to take charge of their own fate. The Kosovar leadership has generally shown a remarkable degree of unity in public, but there is no guarantee that such discipline will continue once the immediate threat of a common enemy is removed. There are well-known rivalries both within the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and within the civilian leadership, as well as between the guerrillas and the politicians.
One can well imagine, moreover, peacetime scenarios in which at least some of these rivalries might come to the surface in perhaps violent form. Such developments, which are rooted in traditional Balkan political cultures, could prevent a modern European political life from emerging. The polarization and even violence present in Albanian and Montenegrin politics suggest that the transition from post- communist to European norms is not proving easy in that part of the Balkans.
But the Kosovars have friends who will try to help them maintain unity of purpose. By signing the Rambouillet accords recently in Paris, the Kosovars ensured that they will have the political support of the U.S. and other key Western powers as long as they adhere to the agreement. There is always a danger of a colonial-type "dependency syndrome" developing in Kosova--as has happened to some extent in Bosnia--if a postwar foreign civilian and military presence becomes preeminent in the affairs of the province. At the moment, however, that is the least of the Kosovars' worries. The Kosovar leaders are now bracing themselves for the new Serbian offensive and congratulating themselves on having cemented their new political bond to the Western powers.
Members of the Kosovar delegation at Rambouillet recently told "RFE/RL Newsline," moreover, that the Albanian government provided constant and vital psychological support for the Kosovar negotiators during the peace talks. There is every reason to expect that Tirana will continue to be a reliable friend to the Kosovars.
This is primarily because Albania is anxious for peace, stability, and democracy to come to Kosova, so that those same phenomena might better develop within Albania itself. Tirana's overall concerns, in fact, reflect those that can be found throughout much of the Balkans. One frequently hears from Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, and Macedonians that Western countries have become so concerned with Bosnia and Kosova that they often neglect the rest of the post-communist Balkans and appear to lack a sound strategy to help the region shake the complex legacy of communism.
People in the countries bordering the crisis regions of the former Yugoslavia often express bitterness that the international community has not sufficiently compensated them for the economic sacrifices they made while wartime sanctions were in force on Serbia and Montenegro. Romania's and Bulgaria's prospects for joining NATO and the EU, moreover, appear dim at best, while there is little serious talk anywhere that Macedonia or Albania might join either organization at any time in the foreseeable future. More than one observer has openly asked whether the countries of the post-communist Balkans might not in fact be condemned to a state of indefinite limbo between their communist past and a future firmly rooted in Europe, to which they aspire.
It is of course true that many of the problems facing the countries of the region are largely of their own making. The Balkan countries themselves often raise artificial barriers--such as stringent visa requirements--that prevent a free exchange of people and ideas within the region. The educated elites in each of the countries of the region have almost always looked toward major international capitals for their foreign cultural, political, and economic links rather than to their neighbors. And crime remains endemic across much of the peninsula.
With regard to the various countries bordering the former Yugoslavia, the Romanian political elite seems to be ever given to in-fighting, and the threat of extremism remains permanently on the horizon. Bulgarian politicians generally enjoy criticizing those in power but do not always become model public servants when they themselves take office. Perhaps the new coalition government in Macedonia will succeed in breaking the hold of corruption and cronyism on political life and the economy. If it does not, Macedonia may find itself locked into the traditional Balkan political pattern in which the "ins" and the "outs" take turn in office and help themselves to the rights and privileges of power.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty