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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 166, 99-08-26

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. 166, 26 August 1999


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] 'SHANGHAI FIVE' SIGN SUMMIT DECLARATION...
  • [02] ...DISCUSS SECURITY, ECONOMIC COOPERATION
  • [03] PRESIDENTS OF RUSSIA, KAZAKHSTAN RESOLVE BAIKONUR PROBLEM
  • [04] CHINA, KAZAKHSTAN, KYRYZSTAN SIGN BORDER AGREEMENT
  • [05] MILITANTS SEIZE 20 KYRGYZ TROOPS...
  • [06] ...AS KYRGYZ, TAJIK, RUSSIAN LEADERS DISCUSSES COUNTER-
  • [07] CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS OPENED AGAINST KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER
  • [08] TAJIKISTAN SEEKS SOLUTION TO UZBEK FUGITIVE PROBLEM...
  • [09] ...EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR SURRENDERING WEAPONS
  • [10] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES ENERGY SECTOR LOANS
  • [11] AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST CAUTIONED OVER REPORTING ON KARABAKH

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [12] BOSNIAN SERBS ABANDON VIENNA CONFERENCE
  • [13] DODIK SLAMS TALIC'S ARREST...
  • [14] ...AS DO OTHER BOSNIAN SERBS
  • [15] BOSNIAN SERB MILITARY, NATO TO CONTINUE COOPERATION
  • [16] WESTERN PRAISE FOR TALIC'S ARREST
  • [17] HAGUE COURT FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST CROATIA
  • [18] CROATIAN OPPOSITION SAYS NO CONSENSUS ON ELECTORAL REFORM
  • [19] KOUCHNER RULES OUT 'CANTONIZATION' OF KOSOVA...
  • [20] ...BUT PLEDGES TO LAUNCH EXECUTIVE BODIES
  • [21] NEGOTIATIONS OVER RUSSIAN DEPLOYMENT IN RAHOVEC CONTINUE
  • [22] HIGH DEATH-TOLL IN MONTENEGRIN REFUGEE BOAT DISASTER
  • [23] ALBANIAN POLICE FIND LARGE ARMS CACHE NEAR TROPOJA
  • [24] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESTITUTION LAW
  • [25] ROMANIA RECEIVES WORLD BANK TRANCHE
  • [26] MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT REJECTS RUSSIAN ACCUSATIONS
  • [27] UKRAINIAN AIRLINE STARTS COURT PROCEEDING AGAINST MOLDOVA
  • [28] JAPAN HELPS BULGARIA OVERCOME KOSOVA CRISIS CONSEQUENCES

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [29] HUNGARY'S MOST CELEBRATED CRIMINAL

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] 'SHANGHAI FIVE' SIGN SUMMIT DECLARATION...

    At their summit in

    Bishkek on 25 August, the heads of state of Russia, China,

    Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signed an 11-point

    declaration pledging cooperation in fighting terrorism,

    drugs- and arms-smuggling, illegal migration, national

    separatism, and religious extremism. They also undertook to

    "prevent the use of their territories for activities

    detrimental to the sovereignty, security, and public order"

    in any of the five countries. At the request of China and

    Kazakhstan, the draft declaration was amended to state that

    the signatories undertake not to intervene in the internal

    affairs of other states under the pretext of protecting human

    rights. That amendment is presumably intended to give China a

    free hand in cracking down on its Uighur minority. The heads

    of state affirmed support for efforts by regional leaders to

    promote a nuclear-free zone in Central Asia. And they also

    noted the "positive experience" of reaching a settlement to

    the civil war in Tajikistan and expressed concern at the

    current situation in Afghanistan. LF

    [02] ...DISCUSS SECURITY, ECONOMIC COOPERATION

    Discussions

    between the five leaders focused on regional security

    problems, expanding trade, and reviewing implementation of

    earlier agreements signed. Noting that the summit is being

    held against the backdrop of "a deteriorating international

    situation," Russian President Boris Yeltsin accused unnamed

    states of trying "to build a world order suiting their

    inclusive interests," Interfax reported. Yeltsin stressed

    Russia's "strategic interest" in security in Asia and called

    for more intense discussion of regional security issues.

    Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced that a

    conference to discuss a proposed Asian security system

    modeled on the OSCE will take place in Kazakhstan on 14

    September. The five presidents undertook to task their

    respective governments with creating joint consulting groups

    to draft proposals on expanding trade and economic ties,

    according to Interfax. And they agreed that their next summit

    will be held in May 2000 in Dushanbe. LF

    [03] PRESIDENTS OF RUSSIA, KAZAKHSTAN RESOLVE BAIKONUR PROBLEM

    Meeting briefly in Bishkek on 25 August, Yeltsin and

    Nazarbaev reached agreement on the resumption of cooperation

    in the launching of Russian rockets from the Baikonur

    cosmodrome, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting presidential deputy

    chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko. Astana had shown reluctance

    to allow a resumption of the launching of proton rockets of

    the type that exploded shortly after blast-off from Baikonur

    in early July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 20 August

    1999). The two presidents also reviewed economic cooperation,

    focusing on agriculture and the machine-building and energy

    sectors. They agreed on the need to embark on Russian-Kazakh

    joint ventures. (Plans for a Russian-Kazakh joint coal

    company with the participation of Russia's United Energy

    Systems are being sabotaged by a local Kazakh official,

    "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 August.) LF

    [04] CHINA, KAZAKHSTAN, KYRYZSTAN SIGN BORDER AGREEMENT

    On the

    sidelines of the Bishkek summit, Jiang Zemin, Nazarbaev, and

    Askar Akaev signed what Akaev termed "a final agreement" on

    delimiting the frontiers between the three countries where

    they converge at the Khan-tengri peak, RFE/RL's Bishkek

    bureau reported. China signed a similar agreement in May 1999

    with Russia and Kazakhstan. LF

    [05] MILITANTS SEIZE 20 KYRGYZ TROOPS...

    The groups of armed

    militants who have infiltrated southern Kyrgyzstan from

    neighboring Tajikistan on 25 August took hostage 20 Kyrgyz

    troops sent to locate them, ITAR-TASS reported. The militants

    are also holding a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general and four

    Japanese geologists and are occupying several villages.

    Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev told

    journalists in Bishkek on 26 August that Kyrgyz troops are

    preparing for an operation against the militants, whose

    strength he estimated at between 400 and 1,000. LF

    [06] ...AS KYRGYZ, TAJIK, RUSSIAN LEADERS DISCUSSES COUNTER-

    MEASURES

    Kyrgyz President Akaev and his Tajik counterpart

    Imomali Rakhmonov agreed on the sidelines of the Bishkek

    summit on 25 August to close border crossings between their

    two countries, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyz

    officials also discussed the hostage situation with Russian

    Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the head of the Russian

    Border Guard Service, General Konstantin Totskii. Totskii

    said that the hostage taking will not affect the withdrawal

    of the final Russian border guard contingent in Kyrgyzstan.

    He added that Moscow will almost certainly agree to provide

    Kyrgyzstan with assistance in resolving the hostage situation

    if asked to do so, according to Interfax. LF

    [07] CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS OPENED AGAINST KYRGYZ NEWSPAPER

    A

    spokesman for the State Tax Police said in Bishkek on 25

    August that criminal proceedings have been brought against

    Aleksandr Kim, chief editor and owner of "Vechernii Bishkek,"

    RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Kim had been

    summoned to the tax police the previous day but did not go

    because of ill health, according to other members of the

    editorial board. Kim had convened a news conference on 24

    August to rebut reports by colleagues at the newspaper that

    he has been arrested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 1999).

    Some 20 journalists on the staff of "Vechernii Bishkek"

    launched a hunger strike on 24 August to protest government

    harassment. LF

    [08] TAJIKISTAN SEEKS SOLUTION TO UZBEK FUGITIVE PROBLEM...

    United

    Tajik Opposition chairman Said Abdullo Nuri told the BBC's

    Persian Service that Tajikistan should undertake to guarantee

    the security of fugitives from Uzbekistan who decide

    voluntarily to return home, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 24

    August. Nuri was speaking after visiting the Karategin region

    of Tajikistan where the majority of those estimated 1,600

    Uzbeks are located. But in a clear distinction between

    genuine fugitives and renegade militants, Nuri added that

    "not a single armed citizen of Uzbekistan should remain in

    regions controlled by the UTO." UNHCR mission head Gong Li

    told journalists in Dushanbe on 24 August that his

    organization has not yet decided whether the Uzbeks in

    Karategin qualify for the status of refugees, Asia Plus-Blitz

    reported. LF

    [09] ...EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR SURRENDERING WEAPONS

    Tajikistan's

    Interior Minister Humdin Sharipov told journalists in

    Dushanbe on 25 August, one day after expiry of the deadline

    for armed groups not subordinate to the UTO to surrender

    their arms, that only 150 weapons have been handed in, Asia

    Plus-Blitz reported. He said the deadline for surrendering

    weapons has been extended, but added that "within a few days"

    his men will begin special actions to locate and confiscate

    illicitly owned arms. LF

    [10] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES ENERGY SECTOR LOANS

    The

    Armenian parliament voted on 25 August to approve two new

    loans to the energy sector totaling $33 million, RFE/RL's

    Yerevan bureau reported. The loans are from the World Bank

    ($19.5 million) and a Japanese government agency ($13.5

    million) and will be used to upgrade the country's power

    distribution network. First Deputy Energy Minister Karen

    Galstyan told deputies that the loans will save Armenia $5

    million annually in energy lost during transmission,

    according to AP. LF

    [11] AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST CAUTIONED OVER REPORTING ON KARABAKH

    Khalid Kazimli, a journalist with the newspaper "Reytinq,"

    was summoned to Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry on 25

    August and questioned about an article he recently wrote on

    the Karabakh peace process, according to a Trade Union of

    Journalists press release. Kazimli was asked who had provided

    him with details of discussions within Azerbaijan's Security

    Council on the possibility of ceding to Armenia part of the

    territory currently occupied by (Karabakh) Armenian forces.

    He refused, however, to reveal the name of that source.

    Security officials warned Kazimli not to write any similar

    articles in future. LF


    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [12] BOSNIAN SERBS ABANDON VIENNA CONFERENCE

    The Bosnian Serb

    delegation stopped participating in an OSCE-sponsored

    military conference in Vienna soon after army chief-of-staff

    General Momir Talic's arrest there on 25 August (see "RFE/RL

    Newsline," 25 August 1999). Talic later arrived in The Hague.

    The war crimes tribunal had secretly indicted him for crimes

    against humanity in conjunction with ethnic cleansing of the

    Prijedor and Sanski Most areas in 1992. At that time, Talic

    commanded the First Krajina Corps. NATO forces in Bosnia

    arrested former Bosnian Serb Deputy Prime Minister Radoslav

    Brdjanin on similar charges in July. Talic's arrest in

    Austria is the first of a major war criminal outside the

    former Yugoslavia. BBC Television reported on 26 August that

    top NATO peacekeepers, including General Sir Mike Jackson,

    often met with Talic in Bosnia but "did not feel confident

    enough to arrest him on his own turf." NATO commanders

    approved then President Biljana Plavsic's decision to name

    him chief-of-staff in February 1998, AP noted. PM

    [13] DODIK SLAMS TALIC'S ARREST...

    Moderate Republika Srpska Prime

    Minister Milorad Dodik said in Banja Luka on 25 August that

    the arrest was an "inappropriate action" that "ignored the

    basic code of diplomatic behavior." Dodik added that "the

    government is deeply concerned about the safety of any of its

    citizens.... [It now appears that] anyone can be arrested

    anywhere, at any time. There is considerable doubt that

    Bosnia Serb representatives will take part in any future

    international meetings," AP reported. British Balkan expert

    Christopher Bennett said, however, that the top Bosnian Serb

    leaders can do little in the face of indictments from The

    Hague. Bennett added that the leaders "are all terrified that

    they are next," Reuters reported. PM

    [14] ...AS DO OTHER BOSNIAN SERBS

    Several prominent Bosnian Serbs

    representing different parts of the political spectrum

    expressed outrage on 25 August over Talic's arrest. Zivko

    Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the Bosnian

    joint presidency, said in Banja Luka that the tribunal's use

    of secret indictments may "pose a serious obstacle to the

    functioning of the institutions of the Republika Srpska,"

    RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that the

    arrest threatens to jeopardize future cooperation between the

    Bosnian Serbs and the international community. Plavsic said

    that the arrest could lead to a "revolt" among Serbs. A

    spokesman for Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party

    demanded that Talic be freed immediately. The spokesman

    added: "The secret indictments exist only at The Hague

    tribunal and are aimed only at the Serbs." Bosnian Serb Vice

    President Mirko Sarovic called the arrest "humiliating" and a

    harbinger of "the preparations against us." He did not

    elaborate. PM

    [15] BOSNIAN SERB MILITARY, NATO TO CONTINUE COOPERATION

    Lieutenant-General Michael Willcocks, who is SFOR's deputy

    commander for operations, held "detailed discussions" with

    Bosnian Serb Colonel-General Novica Simic, who is Talic's

    acting deputy, in Banja Luka on 25 August, an SFOR spokesman

    said the next day. The two top officers agreed to continue

    cooperation. The spokesman stressed that SFOR and the Bosnian

    Serb military work together on a "good footing," Reuters

    reported. He also noted that it was Austrian police, and not

    SFOR, that arrested Talic. PM

    [16] WESTERN PRAISE FOR TALIC'S ARREST

    British Foreign Secretary

    Robin Cook said in a statement in London on 25 August that

    Talic's arrest proves that "the international community has

    not forgotten about the war crimes committed in Bosnia as we

    will not forget the crimes committed in [Kosova] until all

    those indicted appear at The Hague" tribunal. In Washington,

    State Department spokesman James Foley added that "the arrest

    of General Talic underscores the need for new military

    leadership in the Republika Srpska to go along with the new

    political leadership there," Reuters reported. It is unclear

    which "new political leadership" he is referring to. At The

    Hague, spokesman Paul Risley stressed "that neither the OSCE

    nor Austria had been informed [in advance] that [Talic] had

    been charged," AFP reported. Risley added that the practice

    of indicting war criminals in secret has proven "most

    effective," the BBC Serbian Service reported. PM

    [17] HAGUE COURT FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST CROATIA

    Gabrielle Kirk

    McDonald, who heads the Hague-based tribunal, said in a

    letter to the UN Security Council on 25 August that the

    Croatian government refuses "to cooperate with the

    international tribunal." Specifically, Croatia refuses "to

    recognize the international tribunal's jurisdiction over

    alleged criminal activity." The Zagreb authorities have also

    declined to "surrender and transfer" indicted suspects, she

    continued. In Zagreb, Croatian Justice Minister Zvonimir

    Separovic told Croatian television that his government

    "rejects claims that it does not cooperate with the

    tribunal." He repeated that the authorities will prove that

    they do cooperate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 1999). PM

    [18] CROATIAN OPPOSITION SAYS NO CONSENSUS ON ELECTORAL REFORM

    A

    Social Democratic spokesman told Reuters in Zagreb on 25

    August that opposition leaders see "no sense" in holding

    further talks on electoral reform with the governing Croatian

    Democratic Community (HDZ). He charged that the HDZ has "no

    intention" of giving up its control over public television,

    Reuters reported. He added that the opposition and the HDZ

    have reached no compromise on the law reserving 12 seats in

    the 128-seat lower house for Bosnian Croats, who generally

    vote for the HDZ. The international community has repeatedly

    stressed that Croatia must reform its electoral and media

    laws and enable more ethnic Serbian refugees to go home if

    Zagreb wants integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM

    [19] KOUCHNER RULES OUT 'CANTONIZATION' OF KOSOVA...

    UN Special

    Representative Bernard Kouchner told AFP after the third

    session of the Kosova Transitional Council in Prishtina on 25

    August that he does not want a formal partition of Kosova

    along ethnic lines. Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic earlier

    proposed "cantonization" to protect the Serbian minority

    there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999). All ethnic

    Albanian representatives rejected that proposal. Trajkovic

    told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service after the meeting that

    Kouchner suggested "regrouping" Serbs under international

    protection: "The discussion focused on the possibility of

    creating security zones for the Kosovar Serbs including

    Prishtina, Mitrovica, some areas in the Sharr mountains, and

    Gjilan." After the meeting, Kouchner explained that

    "cantonization is not a good word...it reminds us a lot of

    bad things." He pledged that he and Serbian representatives

    will present a new plan next week. The Kosova Liberation

    Army's Hashim Thaci, however, said the ethnic Albanian

    representatives consider the discussion closed. FS

    [20] ...BUT PLEDGES TO LAUNCH EXECUTIVE BODIES

    Kouchner said in

    Prishtina on 25 August that the council meeting was "very

    difficult but constructive." He explained that the discussion

    focused on the creation of executive and governing bodies. He

    gave no details, however. Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim

    Rugova told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that "we have

    agreed to create executive bodies of the transitional

    council. This is most important, and they will begin to work

    soon." Thaci, however, said that the precise composition of

    those bodies is not yet clear: "We do not know how they will

    be composed because the issue is undefined and there is no

    judicial and legal basis on which to set up these bodies." FS

    [21] NEGOTIATIONS OVER RUSSIAN DEPLOYMENT IN RAHOVEC CONTINUE

    Ethnic Albanians continued their blockade of Rahovec on 26

    August, ahead of another round of negotiations with KFOR (see

    Part I). Talks the previous day brought no breakthrough,

    Reuters reported. The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 26

    August that "KFOR is hesitating and has given the Kosovars

    two weeks to think matters over. The Russians will continue

    to swelter in their tanks. The Albanians have scored a

    partial victory with their stubbornness. Not just Moscow but

    the whole international community has once again been duped

    in Kosova." FS

    [22] HIGH DEATH-TOLL IN MONTENEGRIN REFUGEE BOAT DISASTER

    Montenegrin police officials told AP on 25 August that they

    have found 33 bodies of the victims of a boat accident on 20

    August (see "RFE/RL Kosovo Report," 24 August 1999). The boat

    was carrying more than 100 mostly Roma refugees from Kosova,

    who were attempting to enter Italy illegally. A ship serving

    the Tivar-Bari line earlier rescued 69 people. Meanwhile,

    Montenegrin police arrested several people suspected of

    organizing the smuggling of Kosovar Roma to Italy, "Pobjeda"

    reported on 25 August. Survivors said that the smugglers

    charged about $1,100 for each adult and between $10 and $550

    for children, depending on their age. FS

    [23] ALBANIAN POLICE FIND LARGE ARMS CACHE NEAR TROPOJA

    Albanian

    special police forces on 24 August discovered an arms cache

    containing grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, mortars,

    and other weapons, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The cache was

    located in a tunnel near Pac in the Tropoja region. Police in

    the same region also confiscated two tanker trucks smuggling

    gasoline into Gjakova as well as several cars stolen in

    Albania and bound for Kosova. One of them was stolen from the

    OSCE in the Tropoja region earlier in the year. Earlier this

    summer, the OSCE closed its local office there after gunmen

    killed two of its local staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June

    1999). A spokesman of the Public Order Ministry told an

    RFE/RL South Slavic Service correspondent that he cannot

    confirm the newspaper report. An OSCE spokeswoman in Tirana,

    however, said that OSCE officials will visit Tropoja to

    investigate the report. FS

    [24] ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES RESTITUTION LAW

    The Chamber

    of Deputies on 25 August voted by 168 to six with one

    abstention to approve the law on the restitution of real

    estate to former owners and their heirs, RFE/RL's Bucharest

    bureau reported. The three main opposition parties

    boycotted the vote and Adrian Nastase, first deputy

    chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, said

    the law will be changed if his party is returned to power

    in 2000. Under the law, former owners can claim property

    within five years of the legislation's going into effect,

    in order to protect tenants still living in nationalized

    houses. In cases where property was destroyed or is now

    being used for a purpose other than its original one,

    owners will be compensated over 20 years through bonds,

    shares, or cash. The Senate has still to vote on the bill.

    MS

    [25] ROMANIA RECEIVES WORLD BANK TRANCHE

    The World Bank on 25

    August disbursed the first $150 million tranche of a $325

    million stand-by loan for restructuring the private sector

    and privatizing state enterprises, RFE/RL's Bucharest

    bureau reported. That loan was approved in March. Prime

    Minister Radu Vasile said he hopes the second tranche will

    be soon disbursed. Under the loan agreement, that tranche

    is conditional on the privatization of 64 state

    enterprises. MS

    [26] MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT REJECTS RUSSIAN ACCUSATIONS

    The

    government press service on 25 August rejected as "scandal-

    mongering" allegations by "Komsomolskaya pravda" that a

    draft law regulating advertising is reminiscent of Nazi

    Germany practice. The service says it is not true that the

    envisaged legislation allows advertising only in

    "Moldovan," as claimed by the Russian daily. Advertising

    will be mandatory in the official state language but

    translations are not prohibited. The press service says

    that "every country is entitled to...preserve its cultural

    specificity in line with its own historical development."

    The "continuous Sovietization of Moldovans in the [post-

    war] period has done great damage to [Moldovan] national

    consciousness and distorted the language spoken by the

    people," Flux reported. MS

    [27] UKRAINIAN AIRLINE STARTS COURT PROCEEDING AGAINST MOLDOVA

    Aeroalliance, whose AN-26 cargo plane has been impounded in

    Moldova since 7 April, has filed suit with the Moldovan

    Economic Court demanding the release of the plane and

    compensation for losses incurred, Infotag reported on 25

    August. The agency, citing Ukrainian media sources,

    reported that Aeroalliance President Valeriy Marinichenko

    has said his company is ready to accept responsibility for

    the fact that the crew of the plane, which made an

    unscheduled landing in Chisinau, declared the cargo as oil

    pumps and other equipment en route from Budapest to Burgas,

    Bulgaria. The plane, however, was carrying 5,000 pistols

    ordered by Yemen. MS

    [28] JAPAN HELPS BULGARIA OVERCOME KOSOVA CRISIS CONSEQUENCES

    Japan is donating 500 million yen ($4.46 million) to help

    Bulgaria overcome the economic consequences of the Kosova

    crisis, dpa reported on 24 August. The announcement was made

    after Koki Chuma, chairman of the Japanese parliament's

    Foreign Policy Committee, met with Bulgarian parliamentary

    chairman Yordan Sokolov in Sofia. MS


    [C] END NOTE

    [29] HUNGARY'S MOST CELEBRATED CRIMINAL

    by Michael J. Jordan

    On the surface, it's a bit baffling. Hungary--a small

    country proud of its contributions to world culture and

    science and currently striving to join the club of Western

    democracies--is holding up as its hero a man accused of 28

    bank robberies. Vendors are hawking mugs and T-shirts of

    Attila Ambrus. Fans have set up a Web site. A U.S. company is

    considering buying the movie rights to his life story, and a

    German firm wants Ambrus to promote its new energy drink.

    So why the hoopla for a hood? The answer lies buried in

    the Hungarian psyche. After nearly 500 years in the yoke of

    foreign powers and 10 years of scandal-tainted capitalism,

    the public has channeled its loathing of the "state" into

    support for a criminal who holds up state-owned banks and who

    recently humiliated police with a daring escape from a high-

    security jail.

    "It's like the mouse laughing at the cat," says Gyorgy

    Csepeli, a Hungarian social psychologist, who admits to being

    an Ambrus admirer. "Here there has always been a clash

    between state institutions and the people, with the state not

    seen as a part of society but as something distant and

    dangerous. So people love to see when the state can't control

    a situation." He adds, "I also have no empathy for the

    police. Before 1989, I was beaten several times."

    Indeed, Hungarians are thrilled to see Ambrus preying on

    two of society's most despised institutions: the banks and

    the police. During four decades of communism, the police

    gained a reputation for ruthlessness in persecuting opponents

    of the regime. Not only were they feared, but their perceived

    "stupidity" made them the butt of many Hungarian jokes.

    Meanwhile, banks and the bosses who run them are a

    powerful symbol of the postcommunist transition. While a

    handful of Hungarians have become very rich, most of the

    public is not doing as well. The average salary is about $200

    per month.

    The perception is that Ambrus is giving banks and police

    their comeuppance. He is often compared with Sandor Rozsa, a

    Hungarian Robin Hood-like figure of the early 19th century

    who ambushed the wealthy as they traveled between Budapest

    and Vienna.

    Ambrus's modus operandi has been just as important for

    his image as have his targets. A former goalie in Hungary's

    professional hockey league, Ambrus is viewed as a

    "gentlemanly" criminal: clean-cut, polite, and good-looking.

    He sometimes arrives at heists dressed in a jacket and tie;

    sometimes he leaves flowers for the bank teller.

    And he has robberies down to a science: The police have

    a four-minute response time, so he usually gets the job done

    in two or three minutes. His getaways display similar

    panache. Ambrus has routinely hailed taxis, but once he swam

    across the mighty River Danube.

    In a telephone poll of Hungarians earlier this month,

    three-quarters of respondents said they are rooting for

    Ambrus. "I support [Ambrus] even though by stealing from

    banks he's also taking from us," says Zoltan Hajos, a street

    cleaner. "So I'd rather see him go after the rich."

    Of course, there are Hungarians with a more sober

    attitude. "Ambrus is a criminal who should be punished," says

    Szilard Morzsa, a retired economist. "I think the people who

    like him are those who watch these idiotic American movies

    and think this situation is like America."

    Ambrus's six-year crime spree appeared to be over in

    January. As police staked out his home, Ambrus was captured

    when he came to collect his dog. Hungarians saw this as

    another sign of his humanity.

    Then on July 12, he again grabbed headlines by tying

    together bed sheets and rappelling from the fourth-floor

    window of his Budapest jail cell. The escape was caught on

    videotape, but the guards were short-handed that weekend and

    failed to respond.

    However, what many of Ambrus's fans are unaware of is

    that Ambrus has also been charged with attempted murder in

    connection with a March 1998 robbery. With police in hot

    pursuit, Ambrus reportedly turned and fired a pistol at them

    several times. Police failed to publicize the alleged

    incident at the time, however, and the belated charge has

    some supporters claiming it is an attempt to frame Ambrus.

    Jozsef Jonas, a Hungarian crime reporter who had an

    exclusive jail-house interview with Ambrus before his escape,

    says police are in a quandary over how to proceed. "If they

    criticize Ambrus and try to convince the public he's not a

    good guy, the public may think just the opposite."

    The media, for their part, are finally taking a more

    critical look at Ambrus. Television news has now revealed

    that he had numerous brushes with the law earlier in life and

    has failed to provide for his impoverished parents in the

    countryside. Meanwhile, Ambrus, through his lawyer, Gyorgy

    Magyar, is parlaying his notoriety into profits. There's the

    possible movie deal with an unidentified U.S. company and the

    energy-drink promotion. In addition, his published memoirs

    will be hitting the book stores shortly.

    While doing business with a convicted criminal is not

    illegal in Hungary, critics question the morality and ethics.

    "My client has realized he could make more money being on the

    wrong side of the law, in more ways than one," Mr. Magyar

    says. "I'm just representing his interests, ensuring that his

    name and image are not used improperly. Ethics have nothing

    to do with this."

    The author is a Budapest-based journalist

    (michaeljjordan@csi.com).

    26-08-99


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


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