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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 103, 01-05-31

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. 5, No. 103, 31 May 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS GOVERNMENT'S REPORT ON 2000 BUDGET
  • [02] KARABAKH PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON PEACE PROCESS
  • [03] AZERBAIJANI WRITERS APPEAL FOR UNITY ON KARABAKH
  • [04] ABKHAZ PREMIER RESIGNS...
  • [05] ...AS PRESIDENT OUTLINES PRIORITIES
  • [06] UN REPRESENTATIVE RESPONDS TO ABKHAZ MINISTER'S COMPLAINTS
  • [07] KAZAKH, GERMAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS GERMAN EMIGRATION
  • [08] KAZAKH OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST INTERFERENCE IN CAPITAL FLIGHT AMNESTY
  • [09] KAZAKHSTAN TO OPEN FARSI-LANGUAGE SCHOOLS
  • [10] KYRGYZ POLICE, TRADERS CLASH
  • [11] KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT OPENS RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OFFICE IN OSH
  • [12] UN OFFICIAL ASSESSES TAJIK PEACE PROCESS

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [13] MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT OFFERS ALBANIANS KEY CONCESSIONS ON STATUS...
  • [14] ...AND AN AMNESTY
  • [15] NATO'S ROBERTSON URGES MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO MEET ALBANIAN CONCERNS
  • [16] WHAT WILL THE MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS SAY?
  • [17] CIVILIANS IN MACEDONIAN BATTLE ZONE FACE UNCERTAIN TIMES
  • [18] MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SLAMS PROPOSED TERRITORY SWAP
  • [19] TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO MACEDONIA
  • [20] SERBIAN FORCES COMPLETE RETURN TO PRESEVO SECURITY ZONE
  • [21] SERBIAN POLICE FIND MORE EVIDENCE OF WAR CRIMES
  • [22] KOSOVA LEADERS AT OSCE MEETING
  • [23] 'GRAND COALITION' FOR CROATIA?
  • [24] CROATIAN POPULATION DROPS
  • [25] BOSNIAN COALITION CALLS FOR STRONGER GOVERNMENT
  • [26] EU PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE TO RECOMMEND SUSPENSION OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH ROMANIA?
  • [27] ROMANIAN OFFICIALS ANGRY AT REPORT
  • [28] ROMANIA ALSO CRITICIZED OVER CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS
  • [29] ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY STUTTERS ON AMNESTY PLANS
  • [30] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT 'CLARIFIES' SRI PURGE
  • [31] ILASCU TO ATTEND OPENING OF STRASBOURG COURT CASE
  • [32] BULGARIAN TURKISH PARTY COUNTS ON VOTES FROM TURKEY
  • [33] UN PROBING WEAPONS PLANE IN BULGARIA

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [34] NEW MYSTERY MAN AT GAZPROM HELM

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS GOVERNMENT'S REPORT ON 2000 BUDGET

    At the end of a two-day debate, deputies on 30 May failed to approve the government's report on fulfillment of the budget for 2000, Noyan Tapan reported. Fifty-two deputies voted in favor of the report, three fewer than the minimum required for it to be formally approved, while 15 voted against and 20 abstained. Failure to approve the report automatically creates the possibility for a vote of no-confidence in the government should a minimum of 44 deputies sign such a draft resolution within 24 hours. LF

    [02] KARABAKH PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON PEACE PROCESS

    On 29 May, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, briefed journalists in Stepanakert on his recent visit to France and on the ongoing search for a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Ghukasian stressed that there is no alternative to the ongoing OSCE-mediated peace talks, in which he said Karabakh representatives should be invited to participate. He said no peace settlement will be signed without the prior consent of the unrecognized republic's population, nor is any solution acceptable that entails the enclave's vertical subordination to the Azerbaijani central government. "The way to peace and stability is either in the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh's independence or in its joining Armenia," Ghukasian said. LF

    [03] AZERBAIJANI WRITERS APPEAL FOR UNITY ON KARABAKH

    A dozen prominent Azerbaijani writers made public on 30 May an appeal to opposition parties to desist from using the debate over how to resolve the Karabakh conflict as an opportunity to criticize the policies of the present Azerbaijani leadership or in a bid to come to power, Turan reported. The writers appealed to the opposition to pledge their support for President Heidar Aliev's statement that he will never sign a Karabakh peace agreement that violates Azerbaijan's national interests. They abjured a military solution to the Karabakh conflict and proposed as the basic principles of a peace accord the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory, self-government for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, and a commitment by both Armenia and Azerbaijan to respect the other's territorial integrity. LF

    [04] ABKHAZ PREMIER RESIGNS...

    Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba on 30 May accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba, which the latter had submitted several days earlier, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 31 May. In accordance with the unrecognized republic's constitution, Ardzinba then dismissed the government, but ordered it to continue to function until a new cabinet is named. Addressing his erstwhile colleagues in Sukhum on 31 May, Tsugba explained his resignation in terms of the need to give the president carte blanche to appoint new personnel in order to tackle the serious economic problems Abkhazia faces, Caucasus Press reported. He denied that there were any emotional or covert reasons for his resignation, stressing that "I remain a supporter of Ardzinba," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Tsugba has headed the Abkhaz government since December 1999. LF

    [05] ...AS PRESIDENT OUTLINES PRIORITIES

    In his annual address to the Abkhaz parliament, Ardzinba said that the unrecognized republic's leadership continues to work to strengthen the economy and the republic's legislative basis and to create the institutions of an independent state and civil society. He noted positive economic trends in 2000, when budget revenues exceeded inflation, adding that economic growth over the past two years has made it possible to more than double salaries. Ardzinba said that Sukhum's consistent refusal to accept the UN's draft document on measures to resolve the Abkhaz conflict has convinced the UN Security Council that the document cannot serve as a framework for discussions on Abkhazia's future status. As foreign policy priorities, he named restoring legal relations with Russia and accession to the Russia-Belarus Union. LF

    [06] UN REPRESENTATIVE RESPONDS TO ABKHAZ MINISTER'S COMPLAINTS

    Dieter Boden, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Abkhazia, has written to Abkhaz Defense Minister Vladimir Mikanba, who two weeks ago expressed his concern at the UN Observer Mission's failure to impress on the Georgian leadership the importance of measures to prevent further murders by Georgian guerrilla formations of Abkhaz officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). Boden reportedly said he shared Mikanba's concern at the upsurge in violence in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, but dismissed the 12 May killing of an Abkhaz officer as a criminal squabble rather than a politically motivated murder. Boden also said that the Abkhaz leadership's suspension of participation in the work of the Coordinating Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001) hinders the investigation of such killings, according to Caucasus Press. LF

    [07] KAZAKH, GERMAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS GERMAN EMIGRATION

    Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met in Astana on 30 May with a visiting German government delegation headed by Migration Department Chairman Joachim Welt, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The talks focussed on the continued emigration to Germany of ethnic Germans from Kazakhstan, which Welt said is in the interests of neither country. Some 700,000 ethnic Germans have left Kazakhstan over the past decade. Welt appealed to the Kazakh government to improve living conditions in Kazakhstan for those who remain. LF

    [08] KAZAKH OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST INTERFERENCE IN CAPITAL FLIGHT AMNESTY

    Speaking in Astana on 30 May, Prosecutor-General Rashid Tursupbekov warned law enforcement and control agencies not to interfere in the transfer back to Kazakhstan of illegally exported capital, Interfax reported. That process is due to begin on 14 June and will last for 20 days in accordance with legislation enacted by parliament in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). Tursupbekov said that police and other control agencies should not adduce the capital amnesty as a pretext for launching new investigations or searches. LF

    [09] KAZAKHSTAN TO OPEN FARSI-LANGUAGE SCHOOLS

    Iran's ambassador to Astana, Murtaza Safari, has completed a visit to the Zhambyl and Shymkent oblasts of southern Kazakhstan, which are home to some 10,000 ethnic Iranians, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 30 May. The Iranian Embassy reportedly plans to finance several Farsi-language schools in the region. LF

    [10] KYRGYZ POLICE, TRADERS CLASH

    Police in Bishkek detained some 50 people on 30 May who resisted an attempt to forcibly dismantle market stalls at a crossroads in the capital, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Four women were injured in the violence and hospitalized. Bishkek Deputy Mayor Anatolii Slezovskii had earlier warned the traders that the government planned to move the market stalls because the current location is too close to the route taken by President Askar Akaev in traveling between his official residence and the presidential office. But the owner of the market, Kamchybek Joldoshbaev, filed suit for financial compensation, arguing that the move would cost him 9 million soms (about $180,000). LF

    [11] KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT OPENS RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OFFICE IN OSH

    A representative office of the governmental Commission on Religious Affairs was opened in Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, on 30 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Osh Oblast Governor Naken Kasiev had earlier argued that the commission should have its headquarters in Osh. The south of Kyrgyzstan has a large Uzbek population and is considered to be more susceptible than the north to Islamic fundamentalism. LF

    [12] UN OFFICIAL ASSESSES TAJIK PEACE PROCESS

    Ivo Petrov, who heads the UN's Tajik Office of Peace-Building, told journalists in Dushanbe on 29 May that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has extended the mandate of his office until June 2002, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Petrov noted progress in the ongoing peace process, specifically in integrating former opposition activists into government structures, but added that international support is still needed given the level of mistrust that still exists between the government and the opposition. Petrov said regional instability, including the war in neighboring Afghanistan, still poses a threat to stability in Tajikistan. Among other challenges facing the Tajik leadership he listed the aftermath of the 1992- 1997 civil war, extreme poverty, and the population's limited access to health care, social security, and uncontaminated drinking water. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [13] MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT OFFERS ALBANIANS KEY CONCESSIONS ON STATUS...

    The Macedonian leadership appears to have made two major concessions to the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up at least 23 percent of the population. The moves follow the conclusion of a four-party agreement to maintain the broad-based coalition government and amid strong pressure from the EU and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). In one major policy reversal, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said on 30 May that he is ready to change the constitution to make the Albanians a constituent people and place their language on an equal footing with Macedonian. He stressed that "we have an obligation toward the international community to create a Macedonia that will suit the Albanians," AP reported. "That is our only solution at the moment. That is an agenda for peace... Macedonia has been in a war for three months now. Who wants to go on waging this war?" Georgievski added that he is also prepared to abolish the constitutional provision that accords special status to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Most ethnic Albanians are Muslims. PM

    [14] ...AND AN AMNESTY

    In a second major policy reversal by the Skopje authorities, President Boris Trajkovski said on 30 May that he is prepared to introduce an amnesty for UCK fighters, who would also be allowed to exit safely to Kosova. The measure would not apply to the organizers of the insurgency or to individuals who killed Macedonian soldiers or police, Deutsche Welle reported. Trajkovski's spokesman said that details will be worked out shortly with NATO, whose foreign ministers called for such an amnesty at their recent Budapest meeting. Observers note that Trajkovski's offer appears modeled on an approach recently used to successfully end the ethnic Albanian insurgency in Serbia's Presevo region. Although the government rules out direct talks with the UCK, many observers believe that the recent political developments had at least the tacit approval of all concerned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2001). If the constitutional changes and the amnesty are carried out, they will go far to separate those Albanians wanting a fairer deal for their own people on the one hand from nationalist extremists and criminal trouble-makers on the other. PM

    [15] NATO'S ROBERTSON URGES MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO MEET ALBANIAN CONCERNS

    NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told a meeting of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 31 May that it is "vital that the legitimate concerns of the ethnic Albanian community are recognized and accommodated by the government." He added that "a band of armed thugs must not be allowed to destroy a multiethnic democracy, and these senseless attacks [by the UCK on security forces] must cease," Reuters reported. PM

    [16] WHAT WILL THE MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS SAY?

    Reporting from Skopje on 31 May, AP quoted a Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) spokesman as saying that Georgievski's concessions are grudging and the result of Western pressure. The spokesman referred to some of Georgievski's language as "inflammatory." PM

    [17] CIVILIANS IN MACEDONIAN BATTLE ZONE FACE UNCERTAIN TIMES

    Continued fighting north of Kumanovo on 30 May thwarted government and UNHCR plans for an orderly evacuation of thousands of "trapped" ethnic Albanian civilians, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). Villagers face dwindling or exhausted supplies of food and medicine. "The Daily Telegraph" reported that 12,000 Albanians are "stranded by fear" of police beatings and interrogations and will not leave their villages. Elsewhere, Macedonian Television showed footage "of three Macedonian Slavs who said they had been released from rebel captivity in the village of Matejce. They had visible bruises, and a local doctor treating their wounds said they apparently had been beaten and suffered injuries that included broken ribs and a concussion," AP added. PM

    [18] MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SLAMS PROPOSED TERRITORY SWAP

    As a possible solution to interethnic problems in Macedonia, the president of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU), Georgi Efremov, has drafted a plan to exchange some territories and people with neighboring Albania, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 31 May. According to that plan, the heavily Albanian-populated areas of western Macedonia around Debar and Tetovo would be ceded to Albania, while Macedonian populated areas on the western bank of Lake Ohrid would be added to Macedonia. The scattered Albanian population living throughout Macedonia would be "resettled." The speaker of the Macedonian parliament, Stojan Andov, reportedly said that it is an "interesting and provocative plan which should be carefully analyzed, as it contains all the civilized principles that our state is based upon." But Prime Minister Georgievski and several other leading politicians lambasted the plan, ruling out any change in Macedonia's borders, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. UB

    [19] TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO MACEDONIA

    Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao has left President Chen Shui-bian's delegation in Panama and gone to "Europe," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Chang Siao-yue said in Taipei on 31 May. She added that "Macedonia's coalition government has not reached a consensus [on whether or not to cut ties with Taiwan and restore links to the mainland]. The situation in Macedonia is still unstable. We will closely monitor developments," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2001). Macedonia and the Vatican are the only European states that recognize Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China. Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva told a news conference on May 25 that Macedonia will restore ties to Beijing, which were broken when Skopje recognized Taipei in 1999. PM

    [20] SERBIAN FORCES COMPLETE RETURN TO PRESEVO SECURITY ZONE

    At 8:00 a.m. local time on 31 May, Serbian Colonel-General Ninoslav Krstic sent some 1,200 troops and special paramilitary police into the last part of the demilitarized zone, which is inside Serbian territory along the border with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 17, and 24 May 2001). "Everything is going to plan, everything is going smoothly. There has not been a single incident," spokesman Colonel Velizar Jovanovic told reporters. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Bujanovac the previous day that remaining small bands of guerrillas should get out quickly. "I'm giving them a final warning. There won't be any warnings tomorrow," Reuters quoted Covic as saying. The BBC's Serbian Service reported that the presence of land mines near ethnic Albanian villages in the area continues to be a source of potential difficulties and dangers. Serbian troops are supposed to stay out of the villages and concentrate on sealing the border with Kosova. Local police will handle security matters in populated areas according to agreements involving Belgrade, NATO, and local Albanians. PM

    [21] SERBIAN POLICE FIND MORE EVIDENCE OF WAR CRIMES

    Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 30 May that a truck recently found in the Danube River contained 86 bodies, "Danas" reported. The corpses are believed to have been dumped to hide evidence of war crimes by former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

    [22] KOSOVA LEADERS AT OSCE MEETING

    Representatives of the Kosova Interim Council -- Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and Rada Trajkovic -- arrived in Vienna on 30 May to attend the session of the OSCE's Permanent Council, Hina reported. PM

    [23] 'GRAND COALITION' FOR CROATIA?

    Leaders of the governing six-party coalition, which had widely been expected to lose some members following the recent regional elections, now say they do not exclude setting up a broad-based coalition. The new grouping could include the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) as well as some additional parties, "Jutarnji list" reported on 31 May. In other news, Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic told a "mass for the homeland" in St. Mark's church that Croatia is threatened by "divisions, narrow-mindedness, and radicalism." Top government, opposition, and military leaders were in attendance. PM

    [24] CROATIAN POPULATION DROPS

    Preliminary census results suggest that the population has dropped by about 400,000 since the 1991 census, when it stood at 4,784,265, "Vjesnik" reported on 31 May. Serbs made up about 12 percent of the population at that time, but their share is now no more than 5 percent. More detailed results are expected shortly. PM

    [25] BOSNIAN COALITION CALLS FOR STRONGER GOVERNMENT

    Representatives of the 10 parties in the governing Alliance for Changes agreed in Sarajevo on 30 May to introduce legislation strengthening the powers of Council of Ministers. The new legislation will also abolish the requirement that the chair be rotated every eight months, which the coalition feels weakens that institution, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In other news, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 31 May on developments in a corruption case involving former Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic and in separate cases involving three former officials in the Vienna Embassy, who are suspected of embezzling at least $1.2 million. PM

    [26] EU PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE TO RECOMMEND SUSPENSION OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH ROMANIA?

    The "Financial Times" on 30 May said the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee might recommend the suspension of accession negotiations with Romania, citing the draft report submitted to the committee by its rapporteur for Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson. In an interview with RFE/RL on 31 May, the baroness largely confirmed the report. The draft says Romania is failing to cope with the long-standing problem of child abandonment due to the existence of a "well-oiled system" that involves "encouragement [of abandonment] by the state" because of lucrative benefits resulting from links with international adoption agencies. Other reasons cited are the fact that Romania has opened only six out of 31 chapters in the negotiations for the aquis communautaire and that its 2001 budget is based on "over-optimistic assumptions that could undermine reforms and its macroeconomic stability." MS

    [27] ROMANIAN OFFICIALS ANGRY AT REPORT

    Reacting to the publication of Baroness Emerson's draft report, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the child-abandonment problem in Romania has been turned into one serving politicians who pursue their own political purposes and agenda. Nastase hinted that the baroness is hoping to thereby gain a seat in the British parliament in the forthcoming elections. The baroness told RFE/RL that she is not running in those elections. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu said the report contains many "exaggerated" and "erroneous" findings. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gheorgi Prisacaru said that Nicholson's "allegations" are "groundless" and "excel in lack of objectivity." MS

    [28] ROMANIA ALSO CRITICIZED OVER CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

    Deputies representing six different parliamentary groups in the European Parliament, in a letter addressed to Nastase, protested against the government's intention to return to the Penal Code the infamous Article 200 that penalizes homosexual relationships. MS

    [29] ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY STUTTERS ON AMNESTY PLANS

    Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu on 31 May denied that her ministry is examining a draft law that would amnesty people involved in "social unrest movements" after the 1989 "Revolution." Stanoiu was thus contradicting Senator Ion Predescu, secretary of the Senate's Judicial Commission, who one day earlier said it is "no secret" that the Justice Ministry is working on such a draft. Predescu spoke after the commission approved a resolution asking that the government examine the possibility of granting the amnesty. One of its main beneficiaries would be the miners' leader, Miron Cozma, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1999 for his role in the miners' rampage in Bucharest that triggered the fall of the Petre Roman cabinet in September 1991. Several opposition political parties, as well as a number of nongovernmental organizations, protested on 30 May against the intention to grant such an amnesty. MS

    [30] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT 'CLARIFIES' SRI PURGE

    President Ion Iliescu, on a visit to Constanta County on 30 May, told journalists that the 1993 initiative for forging the document accusing current Romanian Information Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte of collaboration with the KGB came from a "low-ranking SRI officer from Neamt County" who was "involved in affairs of local interests." Iliescu said that General Vasile Lupu, deputy director of the SRI, had been "placed on the reserves" at his own request. The Supreme Council for National Defense on 28 May decided to dismiss Lupu because of a "lack of responsibility" in handling the affair. Iliescu stressed that Lupu had not initiated the move. SRI sources said his successor will be appointed within the next two to three months, Mediafax reported. MS

    [31] ILASCU TO ATTEND OPENING OF STRASBOURG COURT CASE

    Senator Ilie Ilascu intends to attend the beginning of hearings on 6 June at the Strasbourg European Court for Human Rights on the complaint launched by Ilascu and those members of his group still detained in Tiraspol, Mediafax reported on 30 May, citing Romanian Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu. MS

    [32] BULGARIAN TURKISH PARTY COUNTS ON VOTES FROM TURKEY

    The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) expects to receive some 20,000 votes from Bulgarian Turks who reside in Turkey, BTA reported on 29 March. Yunal Lyufti, who heads the DPS lists in Shumen, told journalists that close to 200,000 Bulgarian Turks who emigrated from the country have a right to vote in the 17 June parliamentary elections. He said the DPS became aware of the need to campaign among those voters only in 1997, and it then received 6,000 votes from them. Lyufti also said that he expects the next coalition government to be formed by the National Movement Simeon II and the DPS, but the DPS "does not rule out" the possibility of negotiations with the ruling United Democratic Forces, provided "the Ivan Kostov style is dropped." MS

    [33] UN PROBING WEAPONS PLANE IN BULGARIA

    Investigators from the UN and Bulgarian police have thus far failed to discover who dispatched weapons made in the Czech Republic that were discovered in a plane seized last month at a Bulgarian airport, the Czech daily "Lidove noviny," cited by dpa, reported on 30 May. The case is being investigated because of the suspicion of an attempt to violate the UN arms embargo against Eritrea. The Czech government has acknowledged that the weapons are of Czech fabrication, but it said the shipment was approved as a legitimate sale to Georgia. However, crew notes found inside the Ukrainian plane suggest that the actual destination was Asmara, in Eritrea. Following an intelligence tip, Bulgarian police seized the plane after it landed to refuel. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [34] NEW MYSTERY MAN AT GAZPROM HELM

    By Michael Lelyveld

    Russia's Gazprom has named a new chief executive after months of speculation about reforms at the world's biggest gas company. But the appointment of Deputy Energy Minister Aleksei Miller to replace Rem Vyakhirev as Gazprom's chief executive may only add to the mysteries that surround Gazprom and the Russian government's aims.

    Most analysts were surprised by the Gazprom board's choice of Miller, a virtual unknown who had not appeared on any published lists of potential successors in the past week. On 29 May, the "Financial Times" had tipped Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko to take over from Vyakhirev, whose contract expired on 30 May.

    The paper also reported speculation that Sergei Bogdanchikov, head of the Rosneft oil company, would get the job. But in the end, it was Miller, a 39- year-old bureaucrat who started his career in St. Petersburg city government, giving him a possible tie to President Vladimir Putin.

    More recently, Miller ran the Baltic Pipeline System, a project to give Russian oil a direct route to Europe while bypassing ports in the Baltic countries.

    But until 30 May, it was even uncertain that Vyakhirev would be asked to step down. Recent reports suggested that the board would extend his term temporarily as a compromise with minority shareholders who saw him as an obstacle to reforms.

    Vyakhirev had come under fire for Gazprom's alleged asset transfers to companies linked to the relatives of executives. This week, Gazprom announced a net profit of over 60,000 million rubles ($2.1 billion) last year, according to Russian accounting standards. But its stock market value is only a fraction of what Western oil firms are worth.

    The company, which accounts for one-fourth of federal tax payments, is 38 percent owned by the state. The relationship between the government and Gazprom has always been a matter of mystery. As the successor to the old Soviet gas ministry, Gazprom serves Russian foreign policy in controlling gas trade and transit with countries of the near abroad.

    Yet, the government has acted for years as if reform of the monopoly's murky dealings is a matter beyond its ability to control. This week, many media reports called Gazprom a "state within a state." But that description suggests that the government only lacks the power to reform Gazprom. The real question may be whether it has the will.

    On Wednesday, Putin called for more "transparency and efficiency" in Gazprom's operations, a statement that was seen as supporting the move to oust Vyakhirev. But at the same time, a Gazprom spokesman said Vyakhirev could be appointed as company chairman at the next shareholders meeting. The signal raised doubts about the true extent of the change.

    In an interview with RFE/RL, Robert Ebel, director of the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that so far there have been few signs that a new course has been charted.

    "The future of Gazprom is no clearer today than it was yesterday," Ebel said. As for lifting the veil of mystery surrounding the company, he said that "this certainly didn't do it. It just adds to it."

    Because so little is known about Miller or the motives for his appointment, the mystery continues, Ebel said.

    Miller's experience with the Baltic Pipeline System could be a sign that Putin intends to pursue his policy of building bypasses around problem countries even more vigorously than before.

    Putin recently appointed Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister and Gazprom chairman, as Moscow's ambassador to Ukraine. The Russian government has been pressing Poland to cooperate on a new gas export pipeline to Western Europe that would detour around Ukraine. At the same time, Moscow has been trying to gain control over Ukraine's transit pipelines to its European customers.

    Michael Lelyveld is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Boston.

    31-05-01


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


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