|Tuesday, 24 May 2022|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 207, 01-10-31
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 207, 31 October 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTETERRORISM
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET FOR 2002Meeting in a special session on 30 October, the Armenian government approved the draft budget for 2002, which must be submitted to parliament by 1 November, according to Caspian News Agency and Mediamax, as cited by Groong. The draft sets revenues at 214.3 billion drams ($380 million), an increase from this year's level of 193 billion, and expenditures at 257.7 billion drams, which is the same as in 2001. Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian said on 29 October the budget parameters "seem to satisfy" the IMF delegation that visited Yerevan last week, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 29 October. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT FAILS TO APPEAR AT DIPLOMATIC FUNCTION...Heidar Aliev failed at the last minute to attend the official ceremony on 29 October marking Turkey's Republic Day, Turan reported on 30 October. His absence has refueled rumors that the 78-year-old president's health is failing. LF
 ...RECEIVES TELEPHONE CALL FROM U.S. PRESIDENTU.S. President George W. Bush telephoned Aliev on 30 October to thank him for his support for the U.S.-led campaign against international terrorism, Turan reported. Aliev for his part made clear that he wants Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which bars direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan as long as Azerbaijan blockades Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, repealed. Congress voted last week to allow Bush to waive that restriction in the interests of helping Azerbaijan secure its borders and contribute more effectively to the antiterrorism campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). LF
 GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS RAID INDEPENDENT TV STATION...In the morning of 30 October, some 30 National Security Ministry officials forced their way into the premises of the independent Georgian TV station Rustavi-2 and conducted a two-hour search, Reuters reported. National Security Ministry official Malkhaz Salakaya said the raid was prompted by suspicion that the station has withheld some 1 million laris ($480,000) in taxes, but Rustavi-2 General Director Nika Tabatadze said an audit the previous week failed to uncover any irregularities. LF
 ...PROVOKING PUBLIC OUTCRYParliament deputies and NGOs immediately condemned the raid on Rustavi-2's premises as an attempt to silence a media outlet widely respected for its hard-hitting but objective reporting, an accusation the National Security Ministry denied in a statement released later the same day. Hundreds of citizens of Tbilisi congregated at the TV station's headquarters ready to thwart any further reprisals against it. The parliament's Human Rights Committee met in emergency session to discuss the implications of the raid, which parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania termed an act of political persecution, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. On 31 October, thousands of people congregated in central Tbilisi to protest the raid against Rustavi-2. They then marched on the parliament building, where the parliament bureau called on Zhvania to ask President Eduard Shevardnadze to convene an emergency parliament session on 1 November. Deputies demanded that Shevardnadze also attend that session. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS DANGER TO FREE SPEECH...In a statement read on Georgian National Television later on 30 October, President Shevardnadze proposed conducting an independent audit of Rustavi- 2's finances, and sought to reassure the population that "as long as I remain president, freedom of speech in Georgia will not be in danger," Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. Rustavi-2 President Erosi Kitsmarishvili accused Shevardnadze on 30 October of ordering the raid, recalling that during a conversation in August Shevardnadze had implied that the station was guilty of withholding taxes, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ...AS PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS OF POSSIBLE COUP...Addressing parliament on 30 October, speaker Zhvania suggested that the move against Rustavi-2 presaged a coup d'etat that would render the parliament superfluous, Caucasus Press reported. He said the struggle against corruption has triggered a counteroffensive aimed against civil society and freedom of speech, according to Reuters. In recent months Zhvania has consistently sought to exert pressure on Shevardnadze by highlighting the latter's apparent inability to counter corruption and malpractice (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 31, 10 September 2001). LF
 ...AND MINISTER RESPONSIBLE STEPS DOWNNational Security Minister Kutateladze announced his resignation following a 31 October session of the National Security Council during which Zhvania called on both Kutateladze and Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze to step down, Caucasus Press reported. But parliament deputy Tedo Paatashvili argued that Kutateladze, being "a professional," could not have acted on his own initiative. Paatashvili said Targaamadze and Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili should also resign. Rustavi-2 General Director Tabatadze claimed last week that Targamadze had threatened in a telephone conversation to "destroy" the TV station, but later shrugged off that threat as "a joke" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). LF
 GEORGIA DENIES WOUNDED CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER IN RUSTAVIThe Georgian State Security Ministry issued a statement in Tbilisi on 30 October rejecting as untrue Abkhaz claims that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, who is believed to have played a key role in the fighting in the Kodori gorge earlier this month, is undergoing hospital treatment in the town of Rustavi southeast of Tbilisi, Interfax reported. Abkhaz officials claimed earlier that Gelaev had been evacuated by helicopter from Kodori to Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001). LF
 SOUTH CAUCASUS FOREIGN MINISTERS FEAR ANTITERROR CAMPAIGN WILL ECLIPSE REGIONAL PROBLEMSDuring talks in Luxembourg on 30 October with EU officials, the foreign ministers of the three South Caucasus states expressed concern lest the international focus on Afghanistan eclipse the problems posed by unresolved conflicts in their region, Reuters reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili accused Russia of taking advantage of the current world situation to further its own interests. Belgian Deputy Foreign Minister Annemie Neyts told a subsequent news conference that "both Georgia and the EU express their grave concern" over recent violations of Georgian airspace and the bombing of villages in the Kodori gorge. "We want the incursions to stop," Neyts said. But she stopped short of naming Russia as responsible for those raids. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said "we are concerned about the exploitation by our adversaries, especially Azerbaijan, of the terrorism issue and trying to put the Karabakh conflict in that context...in the hope of gaining the sympathy of the international community." He said that approach is "wrong," and could "become a self- fulfilling prophecy" for Azerbaijan. LF
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT TOURS ATYRAU, ANNOUNCES NEW OIL-SECTOR STRATEGYTouring the western oblast of Atyrau on 30 October, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said that in future oilfields in Kazakhstan may be developed only by local companies or joint ventures, meaning that wholly foreign-owned consortia will not be eligible to do so, Interfax reported. But he added that Kazakhstan will continue to solicit foreign investment to modernize the oil-extraction and refining sector. He also said that the involvement of foreign companies engaged in the oil sector must be "totally transparent." LF
 KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA RESOLVE VAT PROBLEM BEDEVILING GAS EXPORTSKazakhstan's State Revenues Ministry and the Russian Finance Ministry have signed a memorandum of understanding that provides for levying VAT on natural gas from the Karachaganak deposit exported to Russia only in Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan's State Revenues Minister Zeinulla Kakimzhanov told the lower house of Kazakhstan's parliament on 30 October, according to Interfax. The British-Italian-U.S.-Russian consortium developing Karachaganak suspended gas extraction in early September after the imposition of dual taxation that Kazakhstan's Customs Committee Chairman Maratkali Nukenov estimated cost Kazakhstan $5 million every month. LF
 U.S. PROVIDES HUMANITARIAN AID FOR KYRGYZSTANThe U.S. on 30 October delivered to Bishkek a shipment of humanitarian aid worth $5 million to be shared among some 50 hospitals in Bishkek and elsewhere in the country, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A U.S. official said in Bishkek the same day that Washington will increase humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan in 2002, and will provide assistance to any refugees from Afghanistan who seek refuge in Kyrgyzstan. LF
 TAJIK GOVERNMENT AMENDS STATE OF EMERGENCY BILLA government session on 30 October chaired by President Imomali Rakhmonov amended the draft bill on a state of emergency to provide for restricting foreigners' entry into the country and for intensifying passport control in border areas in the event of increased tension in border regions due to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. LF
 U.S. GENERAL VISITS UZBEKISTAN...General Tommy Franks, the commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, met in Tashkent on 30 October with President Islam Karimov and the foreign and defense ministers for what Franks later told journalists proved to be "wide- ranging fruitful discussions" of the ongoing U.S.-led antiterrorist operation against Afghanistan and the prospects for future bilateral military contacts, RFE/RL's Tashkent bureau reported. LF
 ...AND TAJIKISTANOn 31 October, General Franks met in Dushanbe with President Rakhmonov to discuss the antiterrorism campaign and unspecified aspects of the political and military situation in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. On 30 October, the Tajik government issued a statement denying that U.S. and allied warplanes will be allowed to use an airfield in the southern region of Kulyab, according to ITAR-TASS. The statement stressed that Tajikistan has offered the use of its airspace and airfields only to aircraft engaged in transporting humanitarian aid. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES REFORMS -- AGAINThe parliament is slated to resume debate on a package of 15 amendments to the constitution on 31 October, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001). The debate is likely to be stormy and last for several days. On 30 October, Vice President Abduladi Vejseli of the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) told the news agency that his party refuses to accept any changes to the 13 August Ohrid peace agreement, thereby calling into question the latest compromise changes to the reform package negotiated by the EU. But Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the International Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) said the changes "satisfy the basic requests of VMRO-DPMNE." He also called for "ending the entire [parliamentary] procedure very soon." Vice President Nikola Popovski of the Social Democrats (SDSM) said that "until something has been verified by the parliament, I don't think anything has been agreed." PM
 NATO FINDS ILLEGAL BOSNIAN ARMS CACHESFOR peacekeepers have found an arms cache near Han Pijesak, the wartime command center of indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic, Reuters reported from Sarajevo on 30 October. It is not clear whether the weapons hoard dates back to the 1992-1995 war or is of more recent origin. A second cache is believed to be nearby in a minefield. SFOR spokesman Daryl Morrell said that "what is clear is that someone has been around the site since the war." Bosnian Serb commanders General Novica Simic and General Svetozar Andric told SFOR they know nothing about the caches, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Tuzla. PM
 UN POLICE SACK SEVEN LOCAL MEN IN BOSNIAUN police (IPTF) spokesman Stefo Lehmann said in Sarajevo on 30 October that the IPTF has fired five Bosnian Serb police in Prijedor, one in Omarska, and one Croat police commander in Odzak because "their wartime background renders them unfit for service in the police forces of Bosnia- Herzegovina," Reuters reported. The Serbs were interrogators in the Omarska concentration camp in 1992. The Croat supervised guards in the Orasje area camp. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB PENSIONERS ON STRIKEUp to 2,000 pensioners demonstrated in Banja Luka on 30 October to demand the payment of their entitlements, which they have not received for four months, AP reported. Their $51 per month pensions are not enough to make ends meet in the Republika Srpska, where, according to official statistics, a family of four needs $210 per month to live. The pensioners demanded free medical care for retirees and accused officials of insensitivity. Medical staffers are also on strike to demand the salaries they have not been paid for four months. A doctor earns $230 per month, while a nurse takes home half of that. Defense Ministry employees demonstrated recently for payment of their salaries, which they have not received for three months. PM
 CROATIAN FOOD PARCELS FOR BOSNIAN MUSLIMSIn a sign of improved ties between Zagreb and Sarajevo, the Croatian government has responded to an appeal by the UNHCR and begun sending 150, 000 food parcels to tens of thousands of needy Bosnian Muslims camped in tent settlements near their former homes, AP reported from Sarajevo on 30 October. PM
 CROATIAN, VOJVODINA LEGISLATORS MEETZlatko Tomcic, the speaker of the Croatian parliament, met in Sremska Mitrovica on 30 October with his counterpart from Vojvodina, Nenad Canak, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Tomcic's family comes from the Vojvodina town, and this was his first opportunity in 10 years to visit family graves. Visits to gravesites for All Souls Day are an important event in Croatia and in much of Roman Catholic Central Europe. PM
 GERMAN AID FOR SERBIAThe German government will provide Yugoslavia with nearly $5 million to help improve power supplies for the coming winter, AP reported from Berlin on 30 October. The government will give the German Red Cross some $325,000 to provide wood and coal to schools, hospitals, and retirement homes in Yugoslavia. PM
 SERBIA GIVES RUSSIA, CHINA 'STEALTH' TECHNOLOGYThe Belgrade authorities have made available to Russian and Chinese experts parts of the U.S. Stealth aircraft downed in the 1999 Kosova conflict, "Vesti" reported on 31 October. Moscow and Beijing, which supported former President Slobodan Milosevic in his war with NATO, plan to use the technology windfall for their own aircraft industries -- and presumably for other purposes as well. The Serbian daily quotes unnamed sources in the Yugoslav General Staff as saying that China was the first country to ask Serbia for the right to study the plane. Russian experts nonetheless got first crack, followed by the Chinese. PM
 BUSH CALLS ON KOSOVAR SERBS TO VOTEPresident George W. Bush has sent a letter to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica urging Kosovar Serbs to take part in the 17 November general elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 30 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 30 October 2001). Bush stressed that it is important that the Serbian minority take part in the vote, which will help shape the future of Kosova. In Prishtina, Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, said that he is optimistic that the Serbs will participate. Kostunica has been demanding "better security" for local Serbs in what some observers regard as a ploy to re-establish a direct role for Belgrade and its security forces in the province. All parties representing Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority oppose any role for Serbia in Kosova. PM
 SLOVENIA UNDER REVIEW FOR U.S. VISA-FREE LISTU.S. authorities are reviewing the visa-free travel status of six countries on a list of 29 whose citizens may stay 90 days in the United States without a visa, Reuters reported from Washington on 30 October. The countries in question are Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, and Uruguay. An unnamed U.S. official said: "The selection of countries had nothing to do with September 11, and they had been designated in late August" as being up for review. Congress requires that each country enjoying visa-free travel status be reviewed every five years as a "routine event." Former U.S. President Bill Clinton drew up the visa-free list in 2000 in an effort to promote trade and tourism. PM
 BOMB KILLS ONE PERSON IN ALBANIAN LEGISLATOR'S HOUSEA bomb exploded in the home of Democratic Party legislator Azgan Haklaj in the early hours of 31 October in Bajram Curri, AP reported. His niece died in the explosion, and four other family members were injured. Edi Paloka of the Democratic Party said that "the incident happened after Haklaj turned down an invitation by [Socialist] Prime Minister Ilir Meta to meet with him." No other details or statements are available. Bajram Curri is in the northeast of Albania, at the center of a region known for lawlessness. PM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER SIGNS AGREEMENT ON SHORT-TERM STATIONING OF U.S. TROOPS IN ROMANIAIn Washington on 31 October, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and visiting Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase signed an agreement that allows the transiting or short-term stationing of U.S. troops on Romanian territory, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The agreement must yet be approved by the Romanian parliament. Nastase expressed the hope that the agreement, which is an enlargement of the two countries' "strategic partnership," will also boost U.S. investment in his country. He also told Powell that Romania is behaving like "a de facto NATO partner" in the current crisis, and urged Powell to follow Romanian military, political, and economic reforms ahead of the Prague 2002 NATO summit. Powell thanked Nastase for "the firm declaration of support" and for Romania's cooperation in the current crisis. Nastase and Powell also discussed bilateral economic relations and Romania's efforts to solve the problem of homeless children. MS
 NASTASE MEETS IMF MANAGING DIRECTOR...Nastase also met in Washington with IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler ahead of the IMF executive board meeting of 31 October, during which a decision was expected to be made on the new standby agreement with Romania. The Romanian premier said after his meeting with Koehler that he received assurances that a $400 million loan will be approved, but added that "the real exam" of the agreement will rest on Romania's ability to abide by its conditions. He said that in order to achieve this purpose his government must prove capable of resisting expected "social pressure." Radio Bucharest cited Koehler as saying that Romania must end its previous "stop-and-go -- go-and-stop" policies on implementing economic reform. MS
 ...VISITS U.S. HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUMNastase also visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on 30 October. In an interview broadcast the next day, Romanian Radio cited the museum's International Archival Programs director, Radu Ioanid, as saying audiences at both the Johns Hopkins University Advanced International School, where Nastase lectured earlier in the day, and at the museum itself were "deeply impressed" by the determination expressed by the premier to eradicate extremism and anti-Semitism from Romanian society. Ioanid quoted Nastase as saying that such programs will be introduced at the National Defense College and Holocaust issues will be taught in colleges and elementary schools. He said that "a law banning any manifestation associated with personalities who committed war crimes will be enacted" and that, as premier, he is "personally committed to remove all...statues of Marshall [Ion ] Antonescu." MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REJECTS STATEMENT OF OPPOSITION PARTIES AS 'DEMAGOGIC'A statement released by the government on 31 October said the cabinet considers a declaration adopted the previous day by representatives of the National Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and several parties from the extraparliamentary opposition, as well as civic organizations, as a "demagogic text that distorts reality," Mediafax reported. In the declaration, the signatories criticized the government for "negotiating away Romania's national interest" in both the discussions under way with Russia on the new basic treaty and in the proposals made by the premier on the implementation of the Hungarian Status Law in Romania. The government said it is being criticized by the same people who "hastened to conclude the bilateral treaty with Ukraine" without taking into consideration the then-opposition's plea to introduce in it a condemnation of the Ribbentrop- Molotov pact. It also said the cabinet "nowhere" said it is willing to renounce the return of the Romanian state treasury from Moscow. The government said the signatories "in bad faith" have ignored its statements that Romania will never accept the Status Law's extraterritorial and "socioeconomically discriminating" aspects. MS
 EXECUTED ROMANIAN DICTATOR'S SON DEMANDS RETURN OF CONFISCATED PROPERTYA Bucharest tribunal on 30 October began hearing the case of Valentin Ceausescu, one of executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's children, against the confiscation of property belonging to him, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The disputed property was confiscated soon after the 1989 uprising that ended Communist rule in Romania. Valentin Ceausescu argues that the confiscated art and china were his personal property and mementos without "any special intrinsic art value." The objects were transferred to the National Art Gallery. In 1996, the Prosecutor-General's Office ended proceedings that were launched against the dictator's three children, one of whom has since died, on the grounds that they undermined the national economy. The office subsequently ordered the restitution of their confiscated property, but the gallery refuses to do so without a court order. MS
 SUSPECTED TERRORIST IN MOLDOVA THREATENS TO SUE IN ROMANIASuspected terrorist Mahmud Ahmad Hammud told journalists on 30 October that if he is expelled from Moldova he intends to settle in Romania and to sue the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and media outlets there, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Hammud reiterated his denial of membership in Hizballah or having ever been engaged in the trafficking of women or drugs. He said he will open judicial procedure in Romania against the SRI, as well as newspapers and television stations that alleged his involvement in those practices and in terrorism. He also said that should he fail to clear his name he will sue in international courts of justice. The Romanian authorities said they will decide whether to allow Hammud to re-enter the country after examining documents he handed to the Romanian Consulate in Chisinau. Also on 30 October, Moldovan National Liberal Party Chairman Mircea Rusu denied reports in the media that his party has been financed by Hammud. MS
 PACE TO DEBATE CASE OF 'ILASCU GROUP' DETAINED IN TIRASPOLThe Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will debate in January 2002 the continued detention in Tiraspol of three members of the "Ilascu group," Romanian radio reported. A draft resolution submitted by Ilie Ilascu, currently a Romanian senator, stipulates that the PACE demands from the separatist authorities the immediate and unconditional liberation of the three prisoners. The draft resolution is also demanding that the authorities in Chisinau "make real efforts" to bring about their liberation and that Russia stop any political, economic, and military support of the Tiraspol authorities. MS
 MOLDOVAN DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS NO RISK ON DEFAULT ON INTERNATIONAL DEBTDeputy Premier and Economy Minister Andrei Cucu told journalists on 30 October that "in the near future" there is no risk that Moldova will default on its international debt, Infotag reported. Cucu said Chisinau hopes to receive a $5 million loan from the World Bank, a $15 million credit from the EU, and a $10 million grant from the Dutch government. Cucu also said discussions will soon begin with the World Bank for a $30-40 million loan intended to cover Moldova's budget deficit, but added that these latter discussions will not open before December at the earliest. He said the Moldovan economy is showing signs of revival, as demonstrated by the 12.2 percent growth in industrial output from January-September 2001 as compared with the same period last year, and the 1.7 percent growth registered in agricultural output over the same time period. The average monthly inflation rate has also dropped by 0.2 percent, he said, while budget revenues increased by 7 percent. MS
 SMIRNOV DISMISSES POTENTIAL 'PRESIDENTIAL' OPPONENT FROM JOBSeparatist leader Igor Smirnov on 30 October dismissed Tom Zenovich, the chief of the Bendery-Tighina city administration, from his job due to "the worsening situation in the town and the administration's failure to take the necessary measures," Flux reported. Smirnov claimed that his decision has "nothing to do" with Zenovich's announced intention to run in the "presidential elections" scheduled for 1 December, but Valerii Litskay, the Transdniester "foreign minister," told ITAR-TASS that "Zenovich became involved in the presidential race and started to criticize the authorities whose representative he was. That is why he has been dismissed." Political observers said earlier that Zenovich enjoys the backing of both Moscow and Kyiv. In related news, Flux reported that following Vladimir Skok's decision to withdraw from the "presidential" race, four candidates remain in the competition. They are Deputy Aleksandr Radchenko, Zenovich, and "Novaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Andrei Safronov. Only Smirnov has thus far managed to collect the 8,500 signatures necessary for registering as a candidate. MS
 HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ENDS BULGARIA VISITVisiting Hungarian Defense Minister Janos Szabo ended his two-day visit to Bulgaria on 30 October by telling Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi that Hungary strongly supports Bulgaria's NATO membership bid, BTA reported. Szabo said the best indications of this support are the meetings held on a quarterly basis between military experts from the two countries. Pasi said Bulgaria wishes to learn from Hungary's experience in joining NATO. On 29 October, Szabo met with his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolai Svinarov and was received by President Petar Stoyanov. MS
[C] END NOTE
 EU OFFICIAL BEGINS TOUR OF CENTRAL ASIA TO DISCUSS FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISMBy Ahto Lobjakas
On 31 October, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, as a representative of the current rotating European Union presidency, began a two-day tour of Central Asia that will take him to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan. Michel is expected to discuss with the leaders of the three countries how they can better contribute to the military and humanitarian operations of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, and what the EU can do in return for their assistance.
A Belgian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL the EU is taking a "message of support" to Tashkent, Ashgabat, and Dushanbe, in order to show its willingness to develop better political and economic relations with the region. However, the EU is doing this, the official said, with a full awareness of the bloc's limited influence on the region's authoritarian-leaning regimes.
The EU, which is seeking a wider coalition against terrorism, needs the Central Asian countries as corridors for military operations and humanitarian aid heading for Afghanistan. The Central Asian states themselves could do with more development aid, which would help shore up governments increasingly challenged by radical Islamic opposition movements.
In more concrete terms, the Belgian official said, Michel will ask Central Asian leaders for their analysis of the situation in the region; in Afghanistan, as well as in their own countries. He also hopes to gain their insight on the political future of Afghanistan.
Finally, Michel will discuss how to develop bilateral relations and assess the functioning of existing aid and cooperation programs. The latter range from the "partnership and cooperation agreement" the EU has concluded with Uzbekistan to the EU's TACIS aid program for the region as well as specific projects aimed at improving communication and transport links with the EU.
The official said the Central Asian countries are "obviously" looking for compensation for the support they are giving to the antiterrorist coalition. He said, however, that Michel will refrain from speaking about rewards, whether in the form of promises of money or aid. He will instead limit himself to getting "a feel" for the Uzbek, Turkmen, and Tajik positions, which he will relay to his EU colleagues at their next meeting in Brussels.
The Belgian official said the EU will raise the traditional political objectives of democracy, human rights, and economic reform with offers of greater political dialogue. Although he said such objectives could be "integrated" into "interest-driven" discussions, he notes the real effect of the demands is likely to remain "theoretical," as is the case with China and Iran.
The official said the EU is aware of the danger that the Central Asian governments could use their cooperation in antiterrorist efforts as an excuse to intensify political repression.
The EU's rationale for closer engagement with the Central Asian region was laid out at a 30 October meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. A "suggestions paper" presented by the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, noted that the geopolitical importance of the region has long been underestimated. Considering the sudden intensification of international terrorism, the stability of Central Asian countries has emerged as being of essential importance in containing the threat. Hence, the EU must clearly define its long-, medium-, and short-term interests.
Solana's paper indicated that the EU's overriding concern must be with the stability of the region, which could open the door to achieving other aims, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan; the containment of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorist threat; the eradication of the drug trade; and ending the trafficking of weapons and human beings.
The report notes that the EU has limited influence to pursue its interests in the region. If EU leaders decide that a "new orientation" with Central Asia is needed, the EU needs to set its objectives in the region against the instruments at its disposal. This, Solana's paper said, could raise serious questions about the resources the EU is willing to make available in order to make a difference.
On his tour, Foreign Minister Michel is expected to promote a "regional approach" to the Central Asian countries. He will avoid playing to any nation's parochial interests and instead will be looking for a "single voice." If past experience is anything to go by, this will be a difficult task. Solana's suggestions paper itself notes that, although several pan- regional cooperation schemes exist, none embraces all five of the Central Asian countries. Instead, quarrels involving the distribution of common resources like water -- as well as the demarcation of challenged borders -- are rife.
The Belgian diplomat said the EU considers Uzbekistan the key country in the region for its contribution as a conduit for both military and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan. He said, however, that Uzbekistan's attempts to achieve regional dominance are "not a good approach." The official said Uzbekistan's desire to extract as much as possible from the West for its support of the antiterrorist coalition is an open secret and will form one element of Michel's talks.
Although the United States have long given Uzbekistan preferential treatment -- considering it a useful counterbalance to Russia's influence in the region -- European Union assistance has declined in recent years, a reaction to the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of President Islam Karimov. In 1998, Uzbekistan received 29 million euros from the TACIS aid fund. In 2000, such aid amounted to 15 million euros.
Turkmenistan is easily the most difficult case for the EU and the antiterrorist alliance. The regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov -- described as "presidential, authoritarian, and repressive" by the EU -- has prevented the EU from ratifying the partnership and cooperation agreement signed in 1998.
However, Turkmenistan continues to benefit from the TACIS program, receiving 9 million euros in 1999. Although Niyazov's isolationist regime has declared itself neutral in the conflict in Afghanistan, the EU hopes Turkmenistan will prove to be of great value as a transit country for both humanitarian aid and personnel moving to northern Afghanistan.
Tajikistan's value is also mostly limited to the humanitarian aspects of the antiterrorist effort, although the EU's means to influence it are even more limited than in Turkmenistan.
Although a five-year civil war ended in 1997, Tajikistan is considered too unstable for a partnership and cooperation agreement. The TACIS aid program was discontinued in 1997 for security reasons. The country presently benefits from an annual 10 million euro humanitarian program, a 4 million euro food safety program, and a 5.4 million euro rehabilitation program.
Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty