|Friday, 5 June 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 72, 99-04-15
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 72, 15 April 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA, RUSSIA INAUGURATE COMBINED AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMColonel-General Anatolii Kornukov, commander in chief of the Russian air force, and his Armenian counterpart, Lieutenant-General Mikael Harutiunian, attended a ceremony at a Russian base 30 km southwest of Yerevan on 15 April to mark the integration of the two countries' air defense systems, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kornukov told journalists in Yerevan the previous day that Russia will send a further eight MiG-29s to Armenia in addition to the five recently deployed there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1998 and 18 February 1999). Kornukov said on 15 April that other CIS member states, including Azerbaijan, are invited to join the CIS air defense system, of which Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are also members. He noted that the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia demonstrate that in conditions of modern hi-tech warfare, small countries need to enlist the help of larger states in order to repel a massive air assault. LF
 RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS KILL TWO ARMENIANSTwo drunken Russian border guards who had deserted their unit near the north Armenian town of Gyumri seized sub-machineguns from a Russian border post and then indiscriminately opened fire in the town streets, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Two people were killed and nine more wounded before the two soldiers were overpowered and disarmed. Russia's ambassador to Armenia, Anatolii Dryuker, expressed formal apologies for the incident on 15 April. LF
 GEORGIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS RAIL TRANSPORTVisiting Tbilisi on 14 April, Russian Transport Minister Nikolai Aksenenko discussed with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Georgian Railways Director Akaki Chkhaidze the possibility of writing off Georgian railway's debts to Russia and the resumption of rail traffic, including freight from Russia via Abkhazia to the Black Sea port of Poti, Caucasus Press reported. A preliminary agreement was reached on the repair of Russian locomotives and carriages at a Tbilisi plant. LF
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY PROTESTS OFFICIAL RESTRICTIONSSpeaking at a press conference in Almaty on 14 April, Seydahmet Quttyqadam, leader of the recently registered ORLEU party, complained that the city authorities have created obstacles for his party, specifically by withdrawing permission for it to hold a congress at the trade union confederation building earlier this week, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. At a session of the pro- presidential Otanshyldar Party in Almaty on 14 April, members announced that Kazakhstan's current priority is not to create an open society but to strengthen national statehood (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). LF
 KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH CHINESE AMBASSADORQasymzhomart Toqaev and Li Huei discussed the joint use of water from the Irtysh River, which flows through eastern Kazakhstan and Xinjiang, in Astana on 14 April, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kazakh capital reported. Li said that the Chinese government is assessing unspecified proposals made earlier by the Kazakh side (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1999). LF
 KAZAKHSTAN REGISTERS POPULATION DECLINEAccording to the preliminary results of the census conducted earlier this year, the current population of Kazakhstan is 14.95 million, Reuters reported on 14 April quoting the State Statistics Agency. That figure represents a decline of over one million since 1989, when the population numbered 16.2 million, and is only marginally higher than the 1979 total of 14.684 million. It is not clear what percentage of the decrease is attributable to out-migration as opposed to negative population growth. Nor is any information yet available on shifts in the ethnic composition of the population. LF
 TAJIK OPPOSITION OFFERS TO PROVIDE SECURITY FOR UN OBSERVERSUnited Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri, who also chairs the Commission for National Reconciliation, met in Dushanbe on 14 April with Joachim Hutter, a senior UN official with responsibility for peacekeeping operations in Asia and the Middle East, AP- Blitz reported. Hutter informed Nuri of the UN's recent decision to resume operations in the Karategin valley, whereupon Nuri offered to ensure the security of the UN observers in that region. The UN suspended operations outside Dushanbe last year following the murder of three members of its observer force and their interpreter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). LF
 UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS ISLAMIC THREAT WILL NOT HALT DEMOCRATIZATIONIn a two-hour speech to Uzbekistan's parliament on 14 April, Islam Karimov said his country's security is currently threatened by external Islamic forces. But he pledged that those forces will not succeed in reversing the embryonic reform process, pledging further liberalization in both the political and economic spheres. Specifically, Karimov advocated a mixed economy with a strong private sector, and said the Uzbek currency will become convertible before the end of this year, according to Interfax. He added that Uzbekistan must step up its efforts to gain admittance to the World Trade Organization, and called for the deregulation of foreign trade. Karimov also announced that those accused of the 16 February bomb attacks in Tashkent, including opposition Erk party founder Muhammad Solih, whom he identified as the organizer of those attacks, will go on open trial in Tashkent in May. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 SERBIAN FORCES 'CLEANSE' FERIZAJMacedonian Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov said that he expects over 7,000 Kosovar expellees to arrive in the course of 15 April. At the Blace refugee camp on the Macedonian border with Kosova, some of the more than 4,000 refugees who arrived the previous day told Reuters that "Ferizaj is no more." They added that Serbian forces emptied the town and surrounding areas of its Kosovar population and sent them south in at least three trains. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called the systematic expulsion of the Kosovars "swift and clinical," noting that "it starts with a knock at the door at 5 a.m." One refugee added: "as soon as the [Yugoslav] army saw us leaving, they set the village on fire." PM
 GEORGIEVSKI: MILOSEVIC TRYING TO DESTABILIZE MACEDONIAMacedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told "The New York Times" of 15 April that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has sent tens of thousands of Kosovars to Macedonia in an effort to provoke ethnic tensions between the Slavic Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanians, who make up some 23 percent of the republic's population. "Milosevic is [counting on a] Christian-Muslim conflict [in Macedonia]. I think we were very close to it." Georgievski added that "the problem is that people have been made to choose between the Albanians and the Serbs. It should not be a question for a country that already has a complicated political life." He concluded that "as a state we have had a difficult 20 days. And I think we passed this exam." PM
 REFUGEES SAY SERBS BOMBED CONVOYNATO and Serbian officials on 15 April traded accusations as to who bombed one or possibly two convoys of displaced persons heading for Albania on the Prizren-Gjakova road the previous day. At least 75 persons died. In Brussels, an unnamed NATO spokesman told AP that NATO aircraft may have hit at least a civilian tractor while pursuing military vehicles. Refugees who reached Albania told Reuters in Kukes that low-flying Serbian MiG aircraft attacked them. One added that, after the attack, "Serbian soldiers came with cameras and filmed the blood and the dead and told us to go and say that NATO bombed you." On 15 April, "The Guardian" also quoted refugees as saying that Serbian aircraft attacked them. The daily added that some refugees reported that many of the supposedly displaced persons hiding in the hills of Kosova are actually being held there by the Serbs as human shields. Refugees told the paper that armed Serbs shot into the crowd of prisoners to deter escapes. PM
 SERBS TAKING REVENGE FOR AIR STRIKES ON FLEEING KOSOVARS?Pjarke Tharkildsen, who is a Danish military officer serving as an OSCE monitor, told AP on the Albanian border on 15 April that he is "personally certain" that Serbian forces are responsible for the bombing deaths of the displaced persons in the convoy. He added that "the Serbs can't get at NATO directly, so they are taking it out on the refugees and making NATO look bad." At Blace, one man from Ferizaj told Reuters: "whenever NATO bombs, there is always an answer" from the Serbian forces. PM
 ALBANIAN REFUGEE INFLUX CONTINUESMore than 1,500 Kosovars arrived in northern Albania on 14 April from the areas of Skenderaj, Prizren, and Drenica, Reuters reported. Some refugees said that Serbian forces used them as human shields near an ammunition dump after the Serbs turned the refugees back from the border two weeks ago. They added that around 5,000 more are on their way towards Albania. The refugees also told stories of atrocities and killings. In Tirana, an OSCE spokesman said 1,000 ethnic Albanians arrived from Montenegro, where many ethnic Albanians fear that Milosevic will attempt a coup. FS
 SERBIAN FORCES SHELL NORTHERN ALBANIAAn OSCE official in Tirana told Reuters that Serbian forces fired mortar shells in the border area in the early hours of 15 April, and that one shell hit Albanian territory near the Morina border crossing. The previous day, the Serbs fired about 40 rounds into the village of Vlahen, near Kruma in the Has Mountains. There were no casualties. The official said that the attacks appeared to be targeted at presumed locations of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Serbian forces also heavily shelled Padesh and Kamenica near Tropoja, forcing local residents to flee. Foreign journalists, meanwhile, saw cars and vans bringing heavily armed UCK fighters towards the border and observed them climbing into the hills. A CNN correspondent, who spent three days with the rebels near Padesh this week, confirmed they use the region as a staging area to move weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and mortars into Kosova. FS
 MEIDANI CALLS MILOSEVIC 'NAZI-COMMUNIST'Albanian President Rexhep Meidani told Reuters on 14 April that Albania is not an enemy of the Serbian people but of its "Nazi-Communist" leadership. He added that "on one side [of the conflict], we have this machinery of war, crime, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and deportation. On the other side, we seek democratic development, respect of human rights and political rights, as well as cooperation and integration in our region." Meidani warned that "if the Serbian army penetrates our territory, we will respond strongly...by all ways and means." Meidani stressed that only the creation of a NATO-led "protectorate" in Kosova will guarantee security for its population. FS
 WORLD BANK PREPARES $70 MILLION LOAN TO ALBANIAArntraud Hartmann, the World Bank's country director for Albania, said in Tirana on 14 April that the World Bank is preparing loans to Albania totaling more than $70 million. Hartmann said that the funds will be used to "provide the best possible conditions for the Kosovar refugees and to safeguard economic stability" in Albania. In the next four months, the World Bank expects to approve an initial $40 million for several projects, including irrigation and flood prevention, privatization of state banks and enterprises, and government reform. It also plans to provide funds to turn public buildings into refugee shelters and buy medical equipment, AP reported. FS
 FRANCE SET TO COMMIT "THOUSANDS" OF GROUND TROOPSDefense Minister Alain Richard told Europe-1 radio on 15 April that Paris could send "several thousand" more soldiers to the Balkans should the conflict in Kosova escalate. He added: "The objectives of the alliance will not change. We must be tenacious and keep our sang-froid." In Bonn, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told parliament that Germans "cannot escape our responsibility. That is why our soldiers are on their first combat mission since World War II...To stand by and watch these crimes would have been cynical and irresponsible." PM
 BELGRADE IMPOSES BLOCKADE ON MONTENEGRIN COASTThe Yugoslav Navy command announced a 48-hour ban on all sea traffic off Montenegro starting at 5 a.m. on 14 April. The statement said that the move is a "safety" precaution. An unnamed Montenegrin government advisor told Reuters in Podgorica that Belgrade wants "to cut off trade between Montenegro and the rest of the world and strangle our port" of Bar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1999). PM
 POLICE READY TO DEFEND MONTENEGROInterior Minister Vukasin Maras told AP in Podgorica on 14 April that "if someone would turn against us, even if that would be the army, he should know that the armed police force is ready to defend Montenegro." He added that "apart from the bombing, Montenegro today is also exposed to juridical, economic, and social terror coming from Belgrade." His 10,000-strong police force is loyal to President Milo Djukanovic. There are 15,000 Yugoslav army troops stationed in the mountainous republic. PM
 AIR BOSNA FLIES AGAINBosnia-Herzegovina's flag carrier began regular flights from Sarajevo on 14 April after NATO allowed civilian flights to resume in Bosnian air space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 1999). PM
 WESTENDORP RULES ON BOSNIAN PROPERTY RIGHTSThe international community's Carlos Westendorp said on 14 April in Sarajevo that pre-war occupants of state-owned apartments retain their right to them. He charged that many of those who have since occupied the flats are war profiteers seeking to improve their standard of living. He stressed that many new occupants are not really the hardship cases they claim to be. Westendorp's ruling underscores the right of all refugees and displaced persons to go home, which the Dayton peace agreement guarantees. The decision also paves the way for the privatization of state-owned apartments, companies, and banks, as well as for the holding of a major aid donors' conference, the daily "Oslobodjenje" wrote. Elsewhere, the World Bank approved a $15 million loan for developing infrastructure at a local level. And Slovenia has offered Bosnia a reconstruction loan of up to $50 million. PM
 FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIAHubert Vedrine on 14 April discussed with his Romanian counterpart Andrei Plesu bilateral relations and the conflict in Kosova, on which the chief French diplomat said the views in Paris and Bucharest are "identical or complementary," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Both ministers said that Russia must participate in a search for a solution to the conflict and that the UN must become more involved in its resolution. They also said they were opposed to a military intervention by NATO ground troops, and Plesu added that such an intervention would be "risky" and "evidently have negative consequences" for Romania. Vedrine decorated Romanian Premier Radu Vasile with the Legion of Honor and was also received by President Emil Constantinescu. MS
 ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES BACKING KOSOVA PARTITIONForeign Ministry spokeswoman Simona Miculescu on 14 April called "ill- willed and abusive" interpretations of a statement by Plesu in alleged support of Kosova's partition. She said Plesu was cited "out of context" and that he only enumerated some "publicly-discussed ideas." The minister, Miculescu said, has "consistently spoken up for the preservation of the territorial integrity" of Yugoslavia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 1999). MS
 ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS DISSATISFIED AFTER MEETING PREMIERThe leaders of the four major trade union confederations said on 14 April after talks with premier Radu Vasile (who resumed his regular duties the previous day) that the warning strike planned for 19 April is on. They said the government has failed to implement solutions agreed on in earlier negotiations. The two sides agreed, however, to continue negotiations to avoid launching a general strike planned for 26 April. Also on 14 April, the State Property Fund decided that its own employees, as well as parliamentarians, local government representatives and trade union leaders can no longer be members of the board of companies administered by the fund, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 LUCINSCHI SAYS BELGRADE PROPOSAL TO JOIN RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN UNION 'REGRETTABLE'Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said on 14 April the decision of the Yugoslav parliament to seek membership in the Union of Belarus and Russia is "regrettable," RFE/RL reported citing ITAR-TASS. Lucinschi also criticized a possible Russian military involvement in the Yugoslav conflict. He said that Moldova will not reconsider its foreign policy and will not join any military bloc, emphasizing that the constitution defines Moldova as a neutral state. Although Moldova is a CIS member, it does not participate in CIS military cooperation, he stressed. MS
 SOFIA PROTESTS HARASSMENT OF BULGARIAN DRIVERS IN ROMANIAInterior Minister Bogomil Bonev, in a letter to his Romanian counterpart Constantin Dudu Ionescu, protested against the harassment of Bulgarian truck drivers transiting Romania instead of Yugoslavia since NATO began its air campaign, Mediafax reported on 13 April. Bonev said that the drivers are often subjected to "unjustified penalties" by the Romanian police who do not issue receipts for the fines collected and fail to specify their reasons. The Bulgarian drivers are forced to pay the equivalent of $14-35. MS
[C] END NOTE
 Meciar Enters Presidential Race, Outcome UncertainBy Jolyon Naegele
The announcement on 9 April, just hours before a deadline for nominations, that former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar will run for president throws the country's presidential campaign wide open.
The first round of elections is scheduled for 15 May, to be followed by a runoff of the two leading contenders.
Just how many candidates will be competing in the first round remains unclear, with various news media reporting figures ranging from eight to 11. The support of at least 15 parliamentary deputies or the signatures of at least 15,000 citizens is required to qualify. The speaker of the Slovak parliament, Jozef Migas, is due to announce on 16 April which candidates have qualified.
Until last week, the three top contenders were considered to be Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, backed by the ruling coalition, and two independents: ex-President Michal Kovac and actress turned diplomat Magda Vasaryova.
Then, after much lobbying, Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Jan Slota succeeded on 8 April in winning support for his candidacy from two MPs from the ruling coalition in exchange for political IOUs. Neither will ever vote for Slota and their motive seemed to be to weaken Schuster's chances. But Slota's chances of getting elected, already slim, have now likely been dashed by Meciar's candidacy. Meciar can be expected to take the lion's share of the nationalist vote while splitting the populist and post- Communist vote with Schuster.
After losing parliamentary elections last September, Meciar announced his departure from the political stage and, as after previous political defeats, he vanished behind the walls of a spa, reappearing only once since then: at the funeral of a murdered former trade minister, Jan Ducky, where Meciar physically attacked several reporters and cursed at them.
Meciar has not been seen since, not even when his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Slovakia's largest opposition party, announced his candidacy.
Meciar's comeback has provoked a variety of reactions. Slovak Justice Minister and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) chairman Jan Carnogursky told RFE/RL that the candidacies of Meciar and Slota should help ensure that a non-party candidate makes it to the run-off.
"The existence of two candidates from the camp of the current opposition, from SNS and HZDS, significantly increases the likelihood that a civic (non- party) candidate makes it to the second round," Carnogursky said.
And commentator Stefan Hrib, a Meciar critic, says Meciar's candidacy will effectively end his prominent role in Slovak politics: "This attempt of [Meciar's] in reality is the best thing that could happen to this country. If Meciar loses--and according to everything--he will lose, it will mean not only farewell to him once and for all, but also a fatal weakening of all those who linked their political future with him."
But Slovak commentator Milan Zitny offers a different view: "For the other candidates, and especially for those who are truly civic (non-party), Meciar's entry into the electoral arena means a fundamental change. According to estimates, Meciar can count on the support of more than 20 percent of the voters and thus his passage to the second round is guaranteed just as is the candidate of the government coalition, Rudolf Schuster, who is preferred by over 30 percent of the voters."
Zitny says that Meciar can only be defeated in the first round if those candidates who have no hope of making it to the run-off throw their backing behind the only single non-party (civic) candidate with a chance of making it to the second round, Magda Vasaryova. In Zitny's words, "the choice is simple--either she or Meciar."
Similarly, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are reacting to Meciar's candidacy with alarm. For example, Charter 99 -- Civic Democratic Youth is appealing to independent candidates, including Vasaryova and Kovac, to hold a "civic primary" in advance of the first round so as to ensure the participation of a non-party candidate in the run-off.
Meciar's apparent candidacy is predictably drawing considerable press comment. Pavol Minarik, in a 12 April commentary in the left-of-center Bratislava daily "Pravda," says "unless Meciar changes into a serious and responsible politician and convinces the democratic world of this, he will bring Slovakia as before only bad luck and unhappiness." Minarik says that Meciar's chief motive in running for president is his "desperate attempt to amnesty Ivan Lexa one more time."
Lexa headed the Slovak intelligence service (SIS) under Meciar. Before dawn on 9 April, parliament stripped him of his immunity to face criminal prosecution in five cases, including the 1995 abduction of Michal Kovac Jr. to Austria. Before leaving office, Meciar amnestied Lexa and others for unspecified acts committed while in office.
The HZDS daily "Slovenska Republika" of 10 April headlined its story on Meciar's comeback "I Heard the Call of the Nation." The quote appears to have been invented. Immediately beneath the Meciar article was another headline, "Perfect Political Act of Revenge," over a story on Lexa's loss of immunity.
Jolyon Naegele is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty