|Wednesday, 20 January 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-01-22
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE DENIES HELPING CIA MONITOR NORTH KOREABoris Labusov, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), on 21 January categorically denied a report in the 20 January edition of "The New York Times" that claimed SVR agents in North Korea helped the CIA secretly monitor Pyongyang's nuclear program, "Izvestiya" and "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 21 January. According to "The New York Times," the CIA took advantage of its new "partnership relations" with the SVR in the mid-1990s to ask SVR officers based in the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang to install surveillance equipment to detect the presence of krypton, a gas that it is emitted during the production of weapons-grade plutonium. "The information [in the report] does not correspond with reality," Labusov said. "We must assume that some forces in the United States fabricated this story specially at a moment when Russia is making intense efforts to defuse the tension around North Korea's nuclear program." However, Labusov told "Izvestiya," "We are cooperating with foreign intelligence services not against [particular] countries, but against [dangerous] developments." VY
 NTV HEAD ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION...U.S. citizen Boris Jordan announced on 21 January that he will resign as the general director of NTV television, which is the key asset of Gazprom-Media, "Izvestiya" and other Russian news agencies reported on 21 January. The move was widely expected in the wake of a 17 January decision by the Gazprom-Media board of directors to remove Jordan from his post as chairman of the board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Jordan emphasized that his removal has nothing to do with politics but that his silence is a condition of his settlement package. Jordan refused to divulge further details of that settlement, but "Izvestiya" estimated that it is worth from $10-15 million. According to Jordan, NTV made a $15 million profit last year, before deducting the cost of servicing its debt to Gazprom. VY
 ...AS DUMA DEPUTY EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER U.S. INDEPENDENT MEDIA...State Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Konstantin Vetrov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), in an obvious allusion to earlier statements from the U.S. State Department responding to Boris Jordan's ouster, has released a statement expressing his concern about "the fate of the independent mass media in the United States following the recent retirement of CNN News Group Chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson," nns.ru reported on 21 January. Isaacson announced on 13 January that he has accepted an offer to become president of the Washington-based Aspen Institute. Vetrov's statement alleges that Isaacson was removed -- despite improving ratings for CNN during his tenure -- because the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush wants to tighten its control over the media in the run-up to a possible military intervention against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. VY
 ...AND ANOTHER RUSSIAN TV EXECUTIVE GIVEN THE SACKTVS General Director Ruslan Terekbaev has decided to fire effective 31 January the channel's general producer, Aleksandr Levin, who is the former general director of TV-6, Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 January. The reason for Levin's dismissal has not been reported, according to lenta.ru. JAC
 DEFENSE MINISTER LAYS OUT NUCLEAR-DEFENSE CONCEPTAt a meeting of the Academy of Military Sciences in Moscow on 18 January, Sergei Ivanov said Russia's nuclear forces should serve as security against aggression, pravda.ru reported. "After 11 September 2001 and [the 23-26 October hostage drama in Moscow], it has become completely clear that the Cold War has been replaced by a new type of war, the war against international terrorism," Ivanov was quoted as saying. "No state has declared this war on us, but there are people and organizations that are carrying on hostile activities against Russia, including informational warfare." VY
 PRESIDENT CALLS FOR COORDINATED FOREIGN POLICYIn comments made prior to a 20 January State Council meeting devoted to foreign policy, President Vladimir Putin urged his administration, the government, and the Foreign Ministry to help Russia's regions to coordinate their international ties in order to promote the country's interests and objectives, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 January. "Our common task is to strengthen the positions of Russia and to increase the foreign political and economic resources of the Russian state," Putin said. "In foreign policy, one should act in a consolidated way, proceeding from a single program and supporting one another." North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, who heads the council's working group on the regions' foreign activities, said that international humanitarian contacts and economic-development activities are the key elements of most regions' foreign ties. VY
 MOSCOW REJECTS RESTORATION OF DZERZHINSKII STATUEA special commission of the Moscow City Duma voted to reject a proposal by Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to restore a statue of Soviet secret-police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii to the spot on Lubyanka Square where it stood prior to 1991, nns.ru reported on 21 January. The commission ruled the restoration would mark the reinstallation of "a symbol of terror, concentration camps, and the persecution of the intelligentsia." Commission member Nina Moleva said the commission also feared that restoring the statue would be a prelude to returning the square's Soviet-era name -- Dzerzhinskii Square. Luzhkov first proposed restoring the monument on 13 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, 18, and 20 September 2002). The statue was removed from the square in August 1991 following the collapse of an attempted coup against then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. At that time, Luzhkov was deputy chairman of the Moscow City Council, and he played an active role in removing the statue. After it was removed, it was quietly taken to a park where many Soviet-era statues have ended up and was repaired. Advocating its restoration, Luzhkov called it "an impeccable sculptural work" and said Dzerzhinskii deserves to be honored for helping homeless children and restoring the railroad system. VY
 RUSSIAN OIL IS LIKE CHINESE RICERussia's delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this year will have a much lower profile than past delegations have had, "Russkii fokus" reported on 18 January. The delegation will be led by Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref instead of by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. One reason for the new approach is that Russia, which is eager to join the World Trade Organization, will come under pressure by forum participants to increase domestic energy prices to global levels, Russian Aluminum Deputy Director Aleksandr Livshits told Ekho Moskvy on 18 January. However, asking Russia to do so is the same as asking China to sell rice domestically at international prices, the former finance minister said. The World Economic Forum will open on 23 January. VY
 COMMUNISTS APPEAL TO REGIONS IN FIGHT WITH GOVERNMENTCommunist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 21 January that he has appealed to all regional legislatures to support his party's initiative to hold a no-confidence vote in the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), Interfax reported. Zyuganov added that he is particularly looking forward to the reaction of legislators in regions that are currently experiencing breakdowns in their heating systems such as Leningrad, Sakhalin, and Kamchatka oblasts and the republic of Karelia. Zyuganov also commented that "a total of 22 regions are freezing." "When I read the news, it is shocking," he said. "One [leader] is skiing; another is abroad basking in the sun. And there is simply no one in the country to deal with the problems we face everyday." TVS reported the same day that legislators in Kamchatka Oblast have again appealed to President Putin to intervene in the region's energy crisis. According to the report, there is only enough fuel for the next few days, and the oblast needs 93 million rubles ($2.9 million) to "improve the situation." JAC
 ANOTHER SENATOR POISED FOR RECALLLegislators in Murmansk Oblast have placed on their agenda for 30 January the question of recalling former Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov as their representative to the Federation Council, regnum.ru reported on 21 January. According to "Izvestiya," the legislators are dissatisfied with Popov because he has not appeared before them with an account of his work in the upper house. However, Popov told the daily that he regularly sends written accounts of his work to the oblast duma. Popov assumed his post in January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2002). Popov was sacked as Northern Fleet commander shortly before being named senator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 December 2001). Meanwhile, State Duma deputies were scheduled to consider on 22 January amendments to the law on forming the Federation Council that would prohibit senators from being recalled during their first year of service. In addition, under the bill, which will be considered in its first reading, a two-thirds vote in the Federation Council would be required to approve any motion from a regional legislature to recall a senator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002). JAC
 MAGADAN GOVERNOR'S KILLERS FOUND?The head of Magadan Oblast's Internal Affairs Department, Yurii Gorlov, told reporters on 21 January that the people who killed Governor Valentin Tsvetkov in Moscow in October have been identified and two of them are former residents of the oblast, regions.ru reported. According to TVS, Gorlov provided no further details. Meanwhile, the election to replace Tsvetkov will be held on 2 February. Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko is currently the front-runner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). JAC
 LENIN REMEMBEREDWhile communists in Ivanovo placed flowers before a statue dedicated to the world proletariat in Lenin Square to honor the 79th anniversary of the death of the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin, on 21 January, some residents of Ulyanovsk -- where Lenin was born and which is named after him -- are lobbying to rename the city Oblomovsk, "Izvestiya" and Ivanovnews reported. The locals would prefer that their town be known instead as the birthplace of 19th-century novelist Ivan Goncharov, who wrote the classic novel "Oblomov" about a man who quite often can find no compelling reason to get out of bed. Backers of the idea include the director of the Ulyanovsk-based Ivan Goncharov Museum and the director of the city's historical and cultural center. On 20 January, "Komsomolskaya pravda" asked some Russians how they remember Lenin. Writer Boris Vasilev said he remembers that Lenin introduced the death penalty to Russia and created the first death camps. Communist State Duma Deputy Vasilii Shandybin pointed out that thanks to Lenin, Russia has free education and health care. "I frequently go to the mausoleum to chat with [Lenin, and] two portraits of him hang in my office," Shandybin said. JAC
 LOCAL LEGISLATOR CALLED ALUMINUM-INDUSTRY LOBBYISTA group of Sverdlovsk Oblast legislators have accused their speaker, Viktor Yakimov, of lobbying the interests of SUAL Holding (Siberian Aluminum) and have called for a vote of no confidence in him, regions.ru reported on 21 January. Yakimov is also the mayor of Kamensk-Uralsk, where one of SUAL's factories is located. According to the site, Sverdlovsk Oblast Prime Minister Aleksei Vorobev signed a decree on 4 January giving SUAL a 150 million-ruble ($5 million) tax credit for one year. Earlier, the oblast government cancelled a decree granting 120 million rubles to SUAL for the construction of a railway route to the Timanskii bauxite deposit, which opened last year. JAC
 PUTIN HOSTS BULGARIAN COUNTERPARTBulgarian President Georgi Parvanov met on 21 January with President Putin in Moscow for talks on bilateral relations, BTA and other news agencies reported. Putin expressed satisfaction with the current level of relations between the two countries and lauded the 22-24 January session of the Bulgarian-Russian Commission for Economic Cooperation in St. Petersburg. He added that Russia will pay its $100 million debt to Bulgaria, partly in cash and partly in nuclear fuel. Trade between Russia and Bulgaria reached $1.5 billion in 2002, bnn reported. RC
 CHECHEN PRESIDENT SLAMS PLANNED REFERENDUM ON NEW CONSTITUTIONAslan Maskhadov has condemned as "an affront" to the victims of the October hostage taking in Moscow by Chechen radicals Russia's plans to hold a referendum on 23 March on a new draft Chechen constitution, Reuters reported on 21 January, citing a tape reportedly received from Maskhadov. Maskhadov said he is convinced that "no one in Russia or abroad will take the results of this voting seriously." Visiting Grozny on 21 January, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said all possible measures will be taken to ensure that "not even the most biased observers would have a shadow of doubt" about the legitimacy of the referendum results, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 RUSSIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CRITICIZES DUMA-PACE WORKING GROUPMeeting in Moscow on 21 January with Lord Frank Judd, who is co-chairman of the joint Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe-Russian State Duma working group on Chechnya, Oleg Orlov of the Human Rights group Memorial accused Judd of being too ready to accept at face value Russian assurances that the human rights situation in Chechnya is under control, Interfax and RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Judd also met on 21 January with Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev to discuss the draft Chechen constitution, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Interfax quoted Judd as commenting that the draft still needs some unspecified corrections but that it "protects people's rights and interests." LF
 TWO CHECHEN INTERNET SITES TO BE SHUT DOWNThe Internet sites of the Chechen Committee for National Salvation and the Council of NGOs are to be shut down as of 24 January, chechenpress.com reported on 22 January. Galina Borisova of the Internet provider mastak.ru, which hosts both sites, accused them of being "anti-Russian," a charge that Chechen Committee for National Salvation Chairman Ruslan Badalov denied. "All we did was tell the truth about what is happening," Badalov said. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT UNVEILS ELECTION PROGRAM...On the first day of the presidential election campaign, incumbent Robert Kocharian told supporters and journalists in Yerevan on 21 January that if elected for a second term he plans to create between 30,000-40,000 new jobs, promote free enterprise, improve public services, and secure "international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh's right to self-determination," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that delivering on those pledges is "a matter of honor" for him, according to Noyan Tapan. "Our main problem is to assure people that we are on the right path, that we can work, and that we are honest. If we succeed in assuring people of these points, we will win for sure," Kocharian said. LF
 ...ATTACKS RIVAL OVER PARLIAMENT-SHOOTINGS TRIALPresident Kocharian also implicitly accused rival presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian of trying to make political capital from the ongoing trial of the five men accused of murdering eight senior officials -- including Sargsian's brother and predecessor as premier Vazgen Sargsian -- in 1999, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian described Russian attorney Oleg Yunoshev, who represents Aram Sargsian at the trial, as "a tramp." Yunoshev recently suggested that Armenian Public Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian might have been killed because he knew who masterminded the shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). Yunoshev told journalists in Yerevan on 17 January that his summons to the Military Prosecutor's Office in connection with that statement was "illegal," Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM SCHEDULEDPresident Kocharian announced on 20 January that the long-awaited referendum on constitutional amendments will be held simultaneously with the parliamentary elections scheduled for 25 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The amendments, which include abolishing the existing ban on dual citizenship, were drafted by a panel of experts that Kocharian appointed in 1999. Alternative amendments drafted by the opposition will not be submitted to a plebiscite (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 March, 4 April, and 17 September 2002). LF
 ARMENIAN NUCLEAR-POWER STATION RESUMES FUNCTIONINGThe sole functioning reactor at the Medzamor nuclear-power station was reactivated early on 21 January, even though the partial refueling that was the rationale for shutting it down three months ago has not yet taken place, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Following Kocharian's visit to Moscow last week, an agreement is expected to be signed in early February under which Russia will provide a new shipment of fuel for the plant, probably by late April. Medzamor Director Gagik Markosian told RFE/RL on 21 January that the plant can function without refueling for at least another two months. He denied that the decision to reactivate the plant was prompted by the disruption of natural-gas supplies from Russia to the South Caucasus following an explosion in North Ossetia that damaged the main gas pipeline. LF
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEUR CRITICIZES DRAFT AZERBAIJANI ELECTION LAWParliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteur for Azerbaijan Martinez Cassan met in Baku on 21 January with the leaders of four leading Azerbaijani opposition parties to discuss the new draft election law and the opposition's reluctance to participate in discussions of its shortcomings, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The opposition boycotted a roundtable discussion convened last month by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Baku office and has set its conditions for participating in new OSCE-moderated talks on the optimum format for a discussion of the draft in which both the opposition and the authorities would participate (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 January 2003). Cassan said that if the presidential elections due in October are held according to the current draft bill, the Council of Europe will not recognize them as valid. Cassan also expressed concern at the Justice Ministry's recent revocation of the registration of the "progressive" wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) and the registration of an AHCP splinter group suspected of covert ties with the Azerbaijani leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 January 2003). Cassan also met on 21 January with Ilham Aliev, who heads the Azerbaijani delegation to the PACE, Turan reported. Aliev assured Cassan the Azerbaijani authorities will guarantee that the presidential election is democratic and transparent. LF
 DEFENDANTS DENY PARTICIPATING IN AZERBAIJANI VILLAGE CLASHESTwo men on trial for their imputed role in the 3 June clashes between police and residents of the village of Nardaran near Baku both denied on 21 January that they were present at the time of the standoff and rejected as fabricated testimony attributed to them and read out by the prosecution, according to zerkalo.az on 22 January. Islamic Party of Azerbaijan leader Alikram Aliev rejected as falsified testimony in which he allegedly confessed to having received $40,000 from Iran. He repeatedly said he did not sign a single document during the pretrial investigation, as he is almost blind. Hadji Djabrail Alizade, the chairman of the Union of Baku and Baku Villages, described to the court in detail how he was arrested at gunpoint in September and beaten during interrogation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 September 2002). He denied any links with either Iran or former President Ayaz Mutalibov. LF
 UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ASSESSES ABKHAZ SITUATIONIn a 13 January letter to the UN Security Council (http://daccess-ods.un.org/TMP/2834276.html), UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern that minimal progress toward resolving the Abkhaz conflict has been made over the past six months. Annan announced that he will convene a "brainstorming session" of the five "friends of the secretary-general" countries soon to consider how to break the deadlock. Annan also called for the resumption of meetings of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council that promotes confidence-building measures and for the extension for a further six months of the mandate of the UN Observer Force. Russian and Georgian news-agency reports on 21 January quoted Annan at a press conference the previous day as describing the Abkhaz as obstructing the investigation into the shooting down over the Kodori Gorge in October 2001 of a UN-chartered, Ukrainian-owned helicopter. Nine people died in that crash (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"9 October 2001). Abkhaz Defense Minister Raul Khadjimba told journalists in Sukhum on 21 January that the Abkhaz authorities have never prevented UN or Ukrainian officials from inspecting the crash site, although they refused to allow a Georgian team to do so. LF
 GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT OFFICIALS SEEK TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCESNino Burdjanadze held talks in Moscow on 21 January with Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo in an attempt to mitigate the mistrust and animosity that currently bedevil bilateral relations, Georgian and Russian news agencies reported. Burdjanadze and Mironov agreed on the need to resume talks -- suspended last year -- on a new framework treaty between the two countries. They suggested the two legislatures could and should play a role in preparing that treaty. Rushailo, for his part, assured Burdjanadze that Russia respects Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported. He advocated extending the mandate, which expired on 31 December, of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, arguing that the peacekeepers contribute to preserving "relative stability." Rushailo also stressed that Russia considers it important that Tbilisi comply with the assurances President Eduard Shevardnadze gave during last October's CIS summit on ridding the Pankisi Gorge of "terrorists," ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 FBI TO OPEN OFFICE IN GEORGIAGeorgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told journalists in Tbilisi on 21 January a meeting between President Shevardnadze and a senior FBI official stationed in Turkey that the FBI will open an office in Georgia within the next two to three months, Caucasus Press reported. The FBI already has offices in Moscow and Kyiv. LF
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT ENDS OFFICIAL VISIT TO SWITZERLANDNursultan Nazarbaev completed a two-day official visit to Switzerland on 21 January, Russian news agencies reported. On 20 January, Nazarbaev met in Bern with Swiss President Pascal Couchepin, Economy Minister Joseph Deiss, and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey. AFP and the "Berner Zeitung" quoted Couchepin as urging Nazarbaev to adopt the American, rather than the Chinese, path to democracy. The Swiss "Greens" had urged Couchepin not to meet with Nazarbaev at all in the light of flagrant human rights abuses in Kazakhstan. The two sides signed on 20 January an agreement on the integration of the five Central Asian states into the Multilateral Trade System, in accordance with which Switzerland will make available technical assistance worth some $1.5 million. Speaking at an investment conference in Zurich on 21 January, Nazarbaev lobbied for Swiss investment in the Kazakh economy. Switzerland exports pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and machine tools to Kazakhstan and imports raw materials and precious metals. LF
 KAZAKH POLITICAL ANALYST ADVOCATES COMBATING FEAR WITH SATIREIn an undated overview of political developments in Kazakhstan in 2002 posted on forumkz.org, political analyst Nurbolat Masanov admits that reprisals against the opposition -- in particular the trial and sentencing of opposition politicians Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov and Mukhtar Abliyazov -- has on the one hand galvanized support for the opposition, but on the other hand made many people fearful of active political involvement. Instead, Masanov wrote, those in the latter category prefer to stand back and wait to see how the confrontation between the authorities and the opposition will end. Masanov suggested that a return to classic Soviet-era satire and jokes about the foibles of the country's leadership is the most effective antidote to official intimidation. LF
 CONTROVERSIAL KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS DROPPEDCholponkul Arabaev, who heads the experts group named earlier this month by President Askar Akaev to finalize the proposed draft amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution, announced in Bishkek on 21 January that two of the most controversial changes have been dropped, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The article giving the president the unrestricted right to veto legislation has been dropped, and one affirming the right of citizens to appeal to the Constitutional Court has been restored. Also on 21 January, the Constitutional Court accepted an appeal by opposition parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov, who demanded the court rule on whether the planned 2 February referendum on the constitutional amendments is lawful. Meanwhile the pro-government Adalet and Women's Democratic parties expressed their support for the amendments and appealed to voters to endorse them, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Kyrgyz opposition launched a website on 21 January devoted to the planned referendum (http://www.referendum.elcat.kg/). LF
 TAJIK DEMOGRAPHIC PROGRAM GETS GREEN LIGHTPresident Imomali Rakhmonov has approved a government program on implementation of Tajikistan's National Demographic Concept, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 21 January. The concept was drafted last year with the aim of lowering Tajikistan's birthrate, which for decades has been the highest in Central Asia, and thus helping to reduce poverty and raise living standards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February and 23 May 2002). According to presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov, the program will cost 250,000 somonis ($83,333). The required funds will be allocated both from the budget and non-budgetary sources. LF
 MORE SENTENCES HANDED DOWN IN TURKMENISTANSeven more people -- including former Turkmen Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyev and Konstantin Shikhmuradov, brother of former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov -- were sentenced on 21 January to prison terms of between six and 25 years and branded traitors to the fatherland, ITAR-TASS reported. All were found guilty of participating in the alleged 25 November attempt to assassinate President Saparmurat Niyazov. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIANS HALT INVESTIGATION INTO HIGH-PROFILE DISAPPEARANCESInvestigators in Minsk have halted the investigation into the disappearances of opposition leader Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasouski, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 21 January, quoting Krasouski's wife, Iryna Krasouskaya. Investigator Uladzimir Chumachenka reportedly told Krasouskaya that the case "has no prospects" for the time being. "This was done to quietly bury the investigations of disappearances and to stop answering questions from relatives, lawyers, and the international commission that is interested in results of these investigations," Krasouskaya told RFE/RL. "This decision was not a surprise to me since I'm convinced that the country's leadership was involved in these kidnappings." Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared in Minsk in September 1999. JM
 BELARUS, U.S. SIGN MEMO ON PROSECUTING NAZI WAR CRIMINALSRepresentatives of the Prosecutor-General's Office and the U.S. Justice Department on 20 January signed a memorandum of cooperation and coordination regarding efforts to prosecute Nazi war criminals, Belapan reported on 21 January, quoting the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's press service. Under the memorandum, the parties are to be granted access to each other's archives concerning crimes perpetrated by the Nazis or their allies during World War II. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES TOUR OF MIDDLE EASTPresident Leonid Kuchma met with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah in Al-Manamah, Bahrain, on 21 January to discuss bilateral cooperation in the economic and political spheres, UNIAN reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. "Issues of using Bahrain's experience in developing tourism infrastructure might be extremely useful for Ukraine," said Ihor Tymofeyev, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain. Kuchma later departed from Bahrain for a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates. JM
 UKRAINE'S ANTIMONOPOLY BODY GIVES GO-AHEAD TO GAS CONSORTIUM WITH RUSSIAThe Antimonopoly Committee on 21 January granted Russia's Gazprom and Naftohaz Ukrayiny permission to pursue the establishment of the International Consortium on Management and Development of Ukraine's Gas Transport System during the pre-investment stage of the consortium's operations, Interfax reported. The consortium is being set up on a parity basis under last year's agreement between the Ukrainian and Russian governments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2002). The pre-investment stage of the consortium's operations must end by August. During this stage the consortium's participants will conduct a feasibility study and develop a plan for financing the project. The implementation of the investment stage will require further permission from the Antimonopoly Committee. JM
 ESTONIAN UNIONS THREATEN TO SUE GOVERNMENTEstonian Central Trade Union Association (EAKL) Chairwoman Kadi Parnits told parliament on 21 January that labor unions are planning to take the government to court over alleged compliance with the Collective Agreements Act, BNS reported. She said the move was prompted by a 14 January letter from Social Minister Siiri Oviir announcing that the ministry will not endorse an agreement reached between the Estonian Employers Central Union, the EAKL, and the White-Collar Trade Unions Organization (TALO) concerning minimum wages for 2003. The minister's action violates the "stipulations of the Collective Agreements Act on the registration and extension of collective agreements that rely on Article 4 of ILO [International Labor Organization] Convention 98," Parnits alleged. She also blamed the government for not having complied with agreements signed with the trade union concerning the tax-exempt income level, unemployment benefits, and greater financing of employment measures. Parnits is second behind party Chairman Ivari Padar on the opposition Moderates party lists for the March parliamentary elections. The Moderates control 17 seats in the 101-member parliament. SG
 LATVIA WEIGHS WTO APPEAL OVER RUSSIA'S OIL POLICIESForeign Ministry spokesman Rets Plesums said on 21 January that Latvia is considering lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over a decision by Russian state-owned oil exporter Transneft not to ship any oil to the port of Ventspils in the first quarter of 2003, AFP reported. On 17 January, Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete sent a letter to the European commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, expressing concern that Russia might wield undue political influence through its decisions on the transit of oil through Latvia's ports. "In our view it is incompatible with Russia's aspirations to become a member of WTO," Kalniete wrote, reaffirming Latvia's wish to resolve issues jointly with the EU and become actively involved in the EU-Russia energy dialogue. SG
 LITHUANIAN PREMIER WANTS TO LOWER THE BAR IN EU REFERENDUMAlgirdas Brazauskas told a national radio audience on 21 January that getting a valid "yes" vote in a referendum on EU membership will be more demanding in Lithuania than in neighboring countries, BNS reported. Lithuania's referendum law requires that at least half of all eligible voters participate and that at least one-third of all voters, or about 900,000 people, cast "yes" ballots. Parliament Deputy Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis proposed that the referendum be held over two days, rather than one, to allow more people to vote. Central Electoral Committee Chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas questioned whether the extra day would really increase participation, adding that it would require amending the law on referendums. SG
 POLAND ADOPTS ARMY-DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR 2003-08Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski on 21 January presented a program for the modernization of the country's armed forces for 2003-08, Polish media reported. According to the program, one-third of Poland's armed forces is to conform with NATO standards by the end of 2008, two years later than envisaged in a modernization program adopted by the previous Solidarity-led government. Szmajdzinski told journalists that the program for 2003-08 trimmed military spending by at least 13.4 billion zlotys ($3.5 billion) compared to previous plans. Szmajdzinski asserted that his program can be implemented provided that Poland keeps defense spending at the current level of 1.95 percent of GDP for the next six years. Poland must cut its budget deficit to less than 3 percent of GDP over the next three years if it is to meet its declared goal of joining the euro-zone in 2007 after entering the European Union in 2004. Poland posted a budget deficit of 5 percent of GDP in 2002. JM
 POLISH INVESTIGATION INTO 1941 POGROM TO BE DROPPEDProsecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew of the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) told journalists on 21 January that the IPN will discontinue its investigation into the pogrom of Jews in Jedwabne in 1941 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 20 March, 3 April, 29 May, and 17 July 2001), PAP reported. Ignatiew explained that the investigation will be dropped because no perpetrators of the crime have been identified aside from those already held responsible in a post-World War II court trial. The IPN investigation, launched in August 2000, found that the pogrom was perpetrated by at least 40 ethnic Polish citizens of Jedwabne at the behest of Nazi troops. Meanwhile, some senators from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance have recently proposed that the investigative branch of the IPN be abolished and its investigations be passed on to prosecutors within the Prosecutor-General's Office. The IPN is currently conducting more than 1,200 investigations. JM
 CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SUBMIT ZEMAN'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY...The Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 21 January formally submitted the candidacy of former Premier Milos Zeman for the next round of the presidential elections, CTK reported. The candidacy was supported by 56 deputies and 11 senators, but Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla was not among the signatories. Spidla said in an interview with BBC that there is sufficient support for Zeman, but he avoided replying to the question of whether he would have supported Zeman otherwise. "I have no emotional relations with Zeman. I cannot say whether I like him or not," Spidla said. The next vote is slated for 24 January. Zeman said the same day that if his presidential bid fails on 24 January, he will not be a candidate in direct presidential elections. Such elections would require constitutional amendments. Asked whether he might agree to run in a third set of elections if parliament again fails to elect a head of state this week, Zeman replied: "We shall cross that bridge when we come to it." Legislators were deadlocked after three rounds of voting on 15 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 January 2003). MS
 ...AS THIRD PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE COMPLICATES CZECH RACE...A senator representing the small, center-right Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) has emerged as a third candidate ahead of the legislature's second attempt to elect a president, CTK and dpa reported. Jaroslava Moserova's candidacy was submitted by deputies representing the junior coalition Freedom Union-Democratic Union and Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, both of which allied with the ODA ahead of last year's national elections. Moserova, a U.S.-educated doctor, is also a playwright. Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Miroslav Topolanek said her candidacy could only hurt the chances of ODS Honorary Chairman and candidate Vaclav Klaus. "Somebody is obviously interested in the second [vote] ending like the first," Topolanek added. MS
 ...AND COMMUNISTS AVOID TIPPING THEIR HANDThe Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) decided on 21 January not to field its own candidate in the 24 January ballot, CTK reported. KSCM spokeswoman Vera Zezulkova told journalists the party is open to negotiations with all formations but will decide only on 23 January whether to support any candidate. But CTK reported later on 21 January that KSCM Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek met for one hour with CSSD candidate Zeman to discuss the presidential contest. Grebenicek said after the meeting that he "will know more" after he meets with the CSSD parliamentary group in the 200-seat lower house, where KSCM controls 41 seats. MS
 FORMER CZECH TELEVISION DIRECTOR FIGHTS DISMISSALFormer Czech Television Director Jiri Balvin on 21 January launched legal proceedings against his dismissal from the post in November, CTK reported. Balvin was dismissed by the Czech Television Council; but since that body cannot be sued under Czech law, the complaint was launched against state-owned Czech Television. Balvin told CTK that during his tenure he observed the law and said he feels "framed." He said none of the grounds cited by the council for his dismissal, which included a failure to curb financial losses, can be proven. MS
 BRITAIN SENDS MORE CZECH CITIZENS HOMENinety-one Czech citizens denied political asylum in the United Kingdom were returned to Prague on 21 January on a flight chartered by British authorities, CTK reported. It was the eighth group of Czechs -- most of whom are ethnic Roma -- to be repatriated by British authorities since the number of asylum seekers ballooned in 2001. MS
 SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES EU REFERENDUMParliament on 21 January unanimously approved the referendum on EU accession, CTK reported. All 147 deputies attending the session voted in favor. The plebiscite must be called by President Rudolf Schuster within 30 days. Schuster is also to set its precise date. He is expected to subscribe to the government's position calling for the vote on 16-17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003), although Schuster on 21 January criticized the fact that he had not been consulted on the matter, TASR reported. A public-opinion poll conducted by the Slovak Statistical Office's Institute for Public Opinion Research shows that 71.4 percent of Slovak voters intend to participate in the referendum, according to CTK. For the plebiscite to be valid, at least 50 percent of eligible voters must participate. Of those who said they intend to vote, 74 percent support joining the EU and 13.2 percent are against. MS
 SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE SERVICE DENIES BUGGING POLITICIAN'S PHONESlovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Vladimir Mitro on 21 January denied that his service tapped the telephone of Pavol Rusko, chairman of the Movement for a New Citizen (ANO) and a television magnate, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Mitro appeared before the parliamentary committee supervising the activities of the SIS. He said he would have had to authorize such wiretaps personally and thus would know if they took place or not. Leaders of the coalition met on 21 January to seek a solution to the crisis triggered by the scandal and ANO's accompanying threat to leave the cabinet, but they failed to settle the dispute, TASR reported. Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Chairman and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky said, however, that "no departures from the coalition" were discussed at the meeting. MS
 SLOVAK CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS TO RUN OWN CANDIDATE IN 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONSKDH Chairman Hrusovsky on 21 January told Slovak radio that his party will support parliamentary deputy Frantisek Miklosko for president in 2004, CTK reported. There will thus be at least two candidates supported by parties within the current governing coalition, since Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) announced it will support Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan for the post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2003). President Schuster's mandate runs out in 2004, but he has yet to announce whether he intends to seek a second five-year term. Slovaks elect their head of state in direct presidential elections. MS
 FOURTH VANDALIZATION OF SLOVAK JEWISH CEMETERYOver 35 headstones were vandalized at the Jewish cemetery in Banovce nad Bebravou on 20 January, TASR reported the next day. The news agency said it was the fourth time in recent years that the cemetery has been desecrated. MS
 HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER PRESENTS GRIPEN OPTIONSDefense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said on 21 January that Hungary faces three options regarding the lease for Gripen fighter jets that was signed by the previous cabinet, Hungarian media reported. Hungary will receive "nearly unusable planes" if the original lease is left intact, as the aircraft agreed upon are outdated, according to Juhasz. The second option, that of severing the lease, would entail costs of 70 billion forints ($304 million), he said. The Defense Ministry prefers the third option of leasing more-modern fighters, which would cost 15.2 percent more than the 108 billion forints agreed in the original lease, according to Juhasz. The cabinet is to discuss the options later this week, he said. MS
 FIDESZ BREAKS TALKS OVER EU PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONSFIDESZ's parliamentary group announced on 21 January that it will no longer take part in any cross-party consultations on legislative amendments related to the 2004 EU parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. The group said Interior Ministry State Secretary Tibor Pal misled the media when he announced that all four parliamentary parties agreed during talks on 20 January that Hungary's deputies in the European Parliament will be elected on party lists. Pal responded that he said only that an agreement was reached "on the main issues" and that differences persist on whether ethnic Hungarians residing outside the country should be allowed to participate in the elections, as FIDESZ wants, MTI news agency reported. MS
 DEMAND FOR HUNGARIAN ID CARDS LOWER THAN EXPECTEDIstvan Szekely, head of the office that handles the issuance of Hungarian ID cards for ethnic Hungarians residing abroad, said on 21 January that the number of applicants from Romania is considerably lower than expected, Mediafax reported, citing MTI. He said that when the Hungarian Status Law went into effect one year ago, the Hungarian authorities expected 96 percent of Romania's ethnic Hungarians to apply for the card. However, only 345,706 applications have been received, representing just 24.1 percent of Romania's ethnic Hungarian population, according to the latest Romanian census. MS
 U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY SETS DATE FOR HANDOVER OF WAR CRIMINALS...Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. special envoy for war crimes issues, met with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in Belgrade on 21 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prosper demanded that Serbian authorities hand over former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic and two other alleged war criminals, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague by 31 March. Prosper warned that U.S. financial assistance to Belgrade might otherwise be threatened. Prosper told Djindjic that once the three indictees have been turned over, Washington will agree that other war criminals can be tried in Serbia. Prosper is expected to meet with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic on 22 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 13 January 2003). UB
 ...PROMPTING SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER TO WAKE UP OFFICIALS...In an apparent reaction to Prosper's request, Djindjic told a Belgrade television audience later the same day that Serbian authorities must make a greater effort to arrest and detain those individuals who must be handed over to The Hague. In related news, British Ambassador to Belgrade Charles Crawford said in the southern Serbian town of Nis on 21 January that the U.K. will not support the new state of Serbia and Montenegro's bid to join the Council of Europe if Belgrade authorities do not improve cooperation with the war crimes tribunal. UB
 ...WHILE YUGOSLAV TOP BRASS REJECTS RESPONSIBILITYBranko Krga, who heads the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, on 19 January told Belgrade's BK Television that the army is not responsible for arresting either Mladic or Sljivancanin, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Krga said the military is not protecting Mladic or Sljivancanin. He added that the Yugoslav Army leadership has informed Carla Del Ponte, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, that it is not the army's duty to arrest these individuals because they are not members of the army. Del Ponte has repeatedly accused Yugoslav authorities of protecting Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2002). UB
 SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINALS ARRESTED IN BOSNIA, CANADASarajevo police on 21 January arrested a Bosnian Serb accused of having committed war crimes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In other news, Canadian police confirmed that they arrested a 27-year-old Serbian police reservist on 16 January on charges that he participated in the killing of 19 ethnic Albanians during the NATO bombing raids in Kosova in 1999. UB
 U.S. PRESIDENT BACKS ALBANIA'S NATO ASPIRATIONSIn a letter to President Alfred Moisiu, U.S. President George W. Bush lauded Albania's progress as a candidate for NATO membership, ATA reported from Tirana on 21 January. Underscoring Albania's positive role in restoring peace in the region, the letter welcomed the joint efforts of the Albanian, Macedonian, and Croatian governments to become NATO members. "The common efforts for strengthening stability in the region, together with your individual efforts to create modern military forces that will contribute to the Alliance, will increase the position of every country as a NATO candidate," Bush wrote, according to ATA. UB
 UNMIK HEAD CALLS ON KOSOVA GOVERNMENT, POPULATION TO COOPERATE...In a televised speech on 20 January, Michael Steiner, the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), called on the population and authorities in Kosova to cooperate with the international community instead of blaming it for shortcomings in the province, ATA reported. Outlining UNMIK's priorities for 2003, Steiner said: "We face three hard challenges: in the economy, where far too many people have no jobs; with crime, where there is still Mafia-style organized crime; [and] on multiethnicity, where there is still no real multiethnic society." Steiner criticized Kosova's government for not taking on responsibility, adding that the decisive element will be the support of Kosova's people. At the end of his address, Steiner said the question of the final status of Kosova is not on the 2003 agenda. UB
 ...AND FACES CRITICISM FROM LEADING KOSOVAR POLITICIANIn a 21 January interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Nexhat Daci, the speaker of Kosova's parliament, harshly criticized Steiner, saying the UN administrator treats the province's institutions as vassals, thereby abusing Kosovar hospitality. Daci warned that if Steiner continues to make promises without actually delivering on them, he might face a powerful reaction from Kosova's institutions. Daci stressed that the parliament does not intend to discontinue cooperation with UNMIK. However, he criticized Steiner's refusal to sign laws that have been prepared in cooperation with international experts and passed by parliament. "If this continues, the parliament will possibly decide to stop handing over the laws to Steiner altogether," Daci said. UB
 FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS MUJAHEDIN AND FIGHTERS FROM KOSOVA THREATEN PEACE IN MACEDONIAFormer Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, a nationalist hard-liner, said on 21 January that at least 500-600 mujahedin from Arab countries and about 20,000 former members of the disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) are threatening peace and stability in Macedonia, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Craig Ratcliff, the NATO spokesman in Macedonia, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters the same day that neither the international community nor the Macedonian government has corroborating information. Ratcliff said NATO and the international community are nearly certain that the security situation is threatened by neither external nor domestic forces. UB
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS HE IS BEHIND ELECTORAL PROPOSALPresident Ion Iliescu said on 21 January that the idea of holding presidential and parliamentary elections separately is his own, Mediafax reported. Premier Adrian Nastase said on 20 January that the two ballots should be held at an interval of several months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Iliescu said separating the two elections would prevent presidential candidates from becoming "the electoral locomotive" of their parties in parliamentary elections. Iliescu also said he agrees with the [Social Democratic Party's (PSD)] proposal that representation in the Senate be based on a single-constituency system. MS
 EU ENLARGEMENT OFFICIAL TOUTS ROMANIA'S PROGRESSEneko Landaburu, the European Commission's director-general for enlargement, said on 21 January after talks with President Iliescu in Bucharest that "psychologically" Romania is already meeting the conditions for EU admission, Romanian Radio reported. Landaburu said both sides are working hard to remove remaining obstacles to Romania's membership of the organization. Earlier on 21 January, Landaburu met with European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak and drew attention to the fact that Romania needs to improve its capability of administering EU funds, as well as to consistently implement the provisions of the EU's acquis communautaire. Landaburu also said in Bucharest that he considers the government's recent "regionalization" plans to be "an excellent solution" that would tighten ties between citizens and those representing them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). However, he declined to comment on how regional governors should be appointed or how many regions should be created, saying this must be the sovereign decision of the government. MS
 ROMANIAN PREMIER IN GREECEPremier Nastase held talks in Athens on 21 January with his Greek counterpart Kostas Simitis that focused on Romania's quest to join the EU in 2007, bilateral relations, and efforts to combat illegal immigration, Romanian Radio reported. Simitis told Nastase that Greece, which took over the rotating EU Presidency on 1 January, will continue to support Romania's EU bid. Nastase also met with Greek businessmen to promote investment in Romania. Accompanied by Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Nastase was also received by President Konstantinos Stephanopoulos and held talks with Greek parliamentary speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis. MS
 ROMANIAN RULING PARTY CLOSE TO ACHIEVING MEMBERSHIP OF SOCIALIST INTERNATIONALThe Socialist International Council, meeting in Rome on 21 January, recommended that the organization admit the PSD as a full member at the international's congress scheduled for June 2003 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Romanian Radio reported. The PSD was granted the status of "consultative membership" of the Socialist International in January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002). Premier Nastase, who attended the meeting, welcomed the decision. The Democratic Party, which already has full membership status, was one of the few formations represented in the council to oppose the decision. MS
 ROMANIAN VOLUNTEERS FOR IRAQI PRESIDENT?Some 70 members of the Romanian Workers' Party are ready to volunteer to fight with Iraqi forces if a U.S.-led war breaks out in Iraq, the private Antena 1 channel reported on 21 January. The extraparliamentary formation considers itself to be the legitimate successor to the Communist Party of Romania, but several attempts to register under that name have been turned down by the Bucharest tribunal. Party Chairman Ion Niculae said the group will first travel to Baghdad to hand UN officials there a memorandum in support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but will fight against the U.S. forces if war breaks out. Niculae has often met with the Iraqi president in the course of his 100-odd visits to Iraq in the past. MS
 DISPUTE ERUPTS OVER BULGARIAN SECRET SERVICE ARCHIVEOn 21 January, police helped the newly formed State Commission on Information Security take over the offices of the so-called Andreev Commission, which examines the files of informers for the communist-era secret police, mediapool.bg reported. Evgeni Dimitrov, the deputy chairman of the Andreev Commission, protested the forceful takeover, citing a pending lawsuit before the Supreme Administrative Court. Commission Chairman Metodi Andreev, after whom the commission was named, told mediapool.bg that he will inform NATO about the case as soon as he returns to Bulgaria. The Andreev Commission was to be dissolved after the government adopted a new law on classified information in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 29 June 2001 and "End Note" "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2002). UB
 BULGARIAN ROMANY LEADERS CRITICIZE LACK OF ACCEPTANCEAt a press conference in Sofia on 20 January, Romany leaders of a number of human rights organizations criticized the so-called Bulgarian ethnic model, claiming it has integrated only the ethnic Turkish minority, "Sega" reported. "The Bulgarian ethnic model is only Turkish, the Roma are not part of it," said Rumyan Rusinov, the director of the Roma Participation Program at the Open Society Institute in Budapest. The press conference was called in response to a statement made by Emel Etem, the deputy chairwoman of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), who called the Roma "lazy bones" on 18 January. The DPS is the junior coalition partner in the government. UB
 BULGARIAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY PRIVATIZATION UNBLOCKEDAngel Iliev, a prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Appeals, unblocked the privatization deal of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) on 21 January, bnn reported. The Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court of Appeals had ordered the halt of the privatization process because of alleged violations of the Privatization Act. However, the Supreme Administrative Court on 8 January ruled that the objection was unfounded. A spokeswoman of the state Privatization Agency told National Radio that the deal with the winning bidder Viva Ventures will be finalized within the next three to four weeks. Diplomats such as U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew have criticized the Prosecutor's Office's intervention as being harmful to the investment climate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, 11, and 19 December 2002 and 9 January 2003). UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 U.S. HEADQUARTERS FIRED UPON IN AFGHANISTANThe U.S. military headquarters at Bagram Air Base came under rocket and small-arms attack in the morning of 22 January, Reuters reported. One attacker was reportedly injured when U.S. troops returned fire and a U.S. military statement reported no U.S. casualties or equipment damage. On 21 January, U.S. Special Forces fired on three armed men near a U.S. base in Shkin in Paktiya Province, according to the U.S. military statement. Two of the men were detained and one escaped, and no injuries on either side were reported. "The U.S. military says 26 American servicemen have been killed by hostile fire and 28 in non-hostile incidents since U.S. operations were launched in Afghanistan in late 2001," according to Reuters. KM
 FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR PARTICIPATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN NATIONAL ASSEMBLYFormer President Burhanuddin Rabbani has called on the Afghan Transitional Administration to allow political parties to participate in the National Assembly (Jirga-ye Melli in Dari, Melli Jirga in Pashtu), Afghan and international news agencies reported on 21 January. A spokesperson for the commission tasked with forming the National Assembly recently said political parties will be prohibited from participating in the body for the time being. "If the purpose of the [National Assembly] commission is to establish a parliament, the parliamentary rules are [already] explained in the 1343  constitution, which is currently being applied," Rabbani said. "Lawmaking is above the authority of the government. How can a commission take such step?" he asked. The rationale for the ban on the participation of political parties is to reduce friction and divisions within the future National Assembly. KM
 AFGHAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS MUJAHEDIN SHOULD BE FOUNDATION OF NATIONAL ARMYThe new Afghan National Army should primarily be composed of former Mujahedin fighters, Deputy Defense Minister General Atiqollah Barialay said in an interview with Iranian Radio on 20 January. The former Mujahedin "were the real inheritors of the Afghan nation because they were the ones who defended the honor, religion, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan," Barialay said. He also suggested that a "national resistance force of Afghanistan" might be formed within the Defense Ministry, although he did not specify what the purpose or task of such a force would be. KM
 FIRST-EVER WOMEN'S AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT OPENS IN JALALABADThe first Women's Affairs Department in eastern Afghanistan was opened in Jalalabad on 20 January, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The department, which is subordinate to the Women's Affairs Ministry, will be headed by Fatima Mojaddedi. Governor Hajji Din Mohammad and other provincial officials attended the opening ceremonies. According to AIP, Governor Mohammad "said [Afghan] women [should] be seen by the international community in the light of Islamic ethics. He added that [Afghan] women should not follow Western women but pursue Afghan culture and traditions." Governor Mohammad also criticized the former communists as well as the Taliban, "saying that both went to extremes," according to AIP. KM
 AFGHANISTAN'S CHIEF JUSTICE SAYS COEDUCATION IS UNLAWFUL...Supreme Court Chief Justice Mullah Fazl Hadi Shinwari on 21 January said, "I think the coeducation of adolescent boys and girls is unlawful and prohibited [under Islamic law]...[and] should be stopped in Afghanistan," AIP reported. Shinwari was commenting on Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan's decision to implement new educational regulations segregating the sexes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 16, and 21 January 2003). "Coeducation is prohibited according to Islamic law and ethics and stopping it will violate no one's rights," he said in response to international criticism over the new measures. KM
 ...AND BANS CABLE TV IN AFGHANISTANThe Supreme Court on 21 January banned cable television nationwide, international media reported. Chief Justice Shinwari "said cable television programs are against Islamic laws and values," according to Radio Afghanistan. Although the Supreme Court issued the decree, it has acknowledged that it is the government's job to implement the ban. Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin told RFE/RL on 21 January that the central government is currently reviewing the court's decision. "The freedom of cable is a part of the freedom of our press," Rahin said. "None of the cable operators had broadcast anything objectionable," "The Guardian" of 22 January quoted Rahin as saying. Rahin added that he hopes the judge's decision will be reversed at a cabinet meeting next week. In the meantime, Rahin said, all cable television companies operating in Afghanistan must register with authorities, RFE/RL reported. KM
 CHIEF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES THAT AFGHAN ULEMA WILL FORM NATIONAL COUNCILPreparations are being made to establish a central council of Afghan ulema (Islamic scholars) comprising two ulema from each province who would, in turn, run subcommittees in their own provinces, Chief Justice Shinwari told AIP on 21 January. "The council will work for Islamic order, Islamic government, and Islamic regulations, and will try to prohibit moral corruption and actions contradicting Islamic law and directed against Islam," Shinwari said. The council will also work to combat "Western [cultural] influence," according to Hindukosh news agency. KM
 AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES FOIL MISSILE ATTACK AGAINST PAKTIYA MILITARY DIVISIONAfghan security forces on 21 January prevented a rocket attack by opposition elements against the Afghan military's 30th Division, Bakhtar news agency reported. The incident came just a day after the governors of six Eastern Afghan provinces, including Paktiya, met to ensure cooperation in improving the security situation in southeastern Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Two rockets, ready to be fired, were discovered in the mountains surrounding the 30th Division's base in Paktiya Province. Security forces claimed they had prevented a "terrorist attack" and blamed remnants of "Al-Qaeda and the Taliban" for preparing the rockets, according Bakhtar news agency. International coalition forces in the region have been targeted by multiple rocket attacks in recent months. KM
 U.S. ENVOY SAYS PAKISTAN-U.S. PARTNERSHIP TO BOOST SECURITY ON PAKISTANI-AFGHAN BORDERU.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Nancy Powell on 21 January announced the creation of the joint U.S.-Pakistan Border Security Program (BSP), which is to improve security on the 2,400-kilometer Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At a function to publicize the creation of the BSP, Ambassador Powell announced the U.S. donation of surveillance equipment to Pakistan's Baluchistan Frontier Corps as part of the $73 million BSP partnership, Pakistan news agency reported on 21 January. In addition to the surveillance equipment, the United States will provide more than 400 fully equipped vehicles and 600 radios to "patrol the rugged terrain and remote locations in order to maintain law and order at the [Pakistani]-Afghan border and to check terrorist activities, narcotics trafficking, and other forms of criminality," according to Pakistan news agency. "Baluchistan covers almost 44 percent of the total area of [Pakistan], with 2,100 kilometers of borders with Afghanistan and Iran," said Major-General Syed Sadaqat Ali Shah, the inspector-general of the Baluchistan Frontier Corps. "The vastness and difficult terrain coupled with lingual and cultural homogeneity of the border belt offers a challenging environment to our efforts. We, therefore, deeply appreciate the assistance provided by the U.S. government in this regard," he added. KM
 IRANIAN OFFICIAL DISCUSSES GAS PIPELINE WITH INDIAPresidential envoy Mohammad Hussein Adeli arrived in New Delhi on 15 January, eight days before President Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to visit India, to persuade the Indians to approve of a natural-gas pipeline running through Pakistan that would connect the two countries, Calcutta's "The Telegraph" reported on 18 January. Tehran would prefer a pipeline running overland through Pakistan because it is the cheapest route, and some believe that Pakistani involvement in the project might make it more flexible on the Kashmir issue. "Hawks in Delhi" argue, according to "The Telegraph," that Pakistan would use the money earned from transit fees for terrorist activities against India. The sea route for the pipeline is technically complicated and therefore more expensive, Adeli said, according to a 17 January IRNA dispatch. The land route suffers from legal, financial, and commercial complications, he added. The recent signing of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline deal appears to be making Tehran anxious. BS
 A REFORMIST, HARD-LINE MERGER IN IRAN?Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman, secretary-general of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Association, said recently that it will take an active part in the upcoming council elections, the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on 19 January. Asgaroladi added that in a recent letter to the leader of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), Mohammad Reza Khatami, he denied wanting to see the IIPP's dissolution and vowed to work with the IIPP to serve the people. Asgaroladi added that a domestic detente is necessary to confront foreign threats successfully. BS
 IRANIAN REFORMISTS PREPARING ELECTION LISTSMohammad Salamati, secretary-general of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, said on 19 January that the Coordination Council of the 18-member 2nd of Khordad Front (which is named after the day in May 1997 that President Khatami was elected) is decentralizing so candidate lists for the upcoming council elections would be decided at the provincial and local levels, ISNA reported. Salamati went on to say that the 2nd of Khordad Front's opponents are trying to portray the dissolution of the Tehran council as a defeat for the reformists, but this is just an election tactic. BS
 IRANIAN ELECTION LAW TO BE AMENDED SOONSeyyed Mahmud Mirlohi, the deputy interior minister for parliamentary affairs, said in an 18 January interview that the deadline for the legislature's review of an amendment to the election law is 26 January, ISNA reported. The legislation, according to Mirlohi, deals with supervision of elections, investigation of candidates, and approval of election results. According to the amendment, a candidate who already has been approved by the supervisory boards may complain to the court if the Guardians Council rejects him or her. And if the Guardians Council tries to reverse the result of an election in a specific place, the initially elected candidate will have the right to complain to the court. The problem is that conservative judges dominate the courts, and they would tend to favor the similarly conservative Guardians Council. Moreover, the Guardians Council must approve the legislation in the first place. BS
 STUDENTS CRITICIZE IRANIAN PRESIDENTA recent open letter from the Shahid Beheshti University Islamic students society to President Khatami asked why he has stayed silent when people are jeopardizing national security in order to pursue their own political interests, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 January. Why is he remaining a hostage to their desire to tolerate a silent Khatami, the letter asked? And if he cannot say or do what he wants, then he should let the people know this. If he advances with determination, the letter promised, "then we will do our utmost to accompany you." BS
 MORE THAN 1 MILLION IRANIAN WOMEN ARE SOLE PROVIDERSA Welfare Organization official identified only as "Motamedi" said recently that his or her agency is supporting less than 10 percent of the women who are the sole sources of family income, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 January. Motamedi said that these women end up supporting their families because their husbands are dead, unemployed, or addicted to drugs, or they are divorced or unmarried. Motamedi said society misunderstands these women and sometimes they must work in the street, selling flowers or doing something similar. BS
 TWENTY THOUSAND SLEEP ROUGH IN TEHRANParviz Piran, who is associated with the academic staff at the first conference on Tehran's stability, said recently that more than 20,000 people sleep out of doors in Tehran and that number is climbing, "Entekhab" reported on 18 January. Drug addiction, prostitution, class differences, discrimination, and social injustice contribute to the city's problems, Piran said. BS
 IRAN'S PRISONS CONTEND WITH HIV/AIDSPrisons Organization chief Morteza Bakhtiari said recently that 10 new clinics will be established in the corrections system to complement the existing six clinics, "Iran News" reported on 19 January. On 16 January, Bakhtiari said some of the prisoners have HIV/AIDS and addicted prisoners will be isolated in an effort to check its spread, IRNA reported on 17 January. A recent circular from the Health Ministry has warned that any health professional who turns away an AIDS patient is in violation of the law and faces consequences. "Iran News" asked what will happen to individuals who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS when they are released from prison. BS
 IRAQI POWS GIVEN ASYLUMBrigadier General Abdullah Najafi, head of Iran's POW and MIA Commission, said on 18 January that Iran is continuing its efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of almost 900 prisoners of war (POWs) from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Najafi said the two sides have determined the fate of almost 98 percent of the POWs. He added that many Iraqi POWs sought asylum in Iran and now are citizens. Iranian and Iraqi officials were scheduled to meet on 19-20 January to discuss the remaining POWs. BS
 IRAQI PRESIDENT MEETS NEW GROUP OF COMMANDERSIraqi President Saddam Hussein has again met with officers and commanders, as well as his son Qusay and Defense Minister Staff General Sultan Hashim Ahmad and Staff General Husayn Rashid, Iraq News Agency reported on 21 January. President Hussein, who has held several meetings with military personnel in recent days, told his audience: "Even when you do not see me smiling, I want you to know that I do smile; that is, what prompts the smiling is the fact that I am happy with the path that we have chosen as a faith-based path that satisfies God." He went on to say that soldiers should be proud that they are part of the army, and added that they have no other responsibility than to defend the homeland. "As for the other citizens, their primary responsibility is to be, for example, good farmers who would turn into good fighters [if] the homeland [were] threatened," Hussein added. "Inattentiveness creates simplicity, and the latter sometimes weakens alertness. If the Iraqi does not take good care of himself, his alertness becomes weakened." KR
 TURKEY CALLS ON REGIONAL STATES TO MEET AND DISCUSS IRAQ...Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis on 21 January said four of Iraq's neighbors and Egypt have agreed to meet in Turkey this week to discuss ways they could assist in staving off a U.S.-led war against Iraq. According to a Reuters report the same day, the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia will meet in Istanbul on 23 January. Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul on Fox News Channel called the meeting a last-ditch effort, adding, "We want to avoid war.... We want to warn Iraq: This is not a joke," Reuters reported. KR
 ...AS SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP TALKS IN EGYPTSaudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud concluded talks in Cairo by saying that Egypt and Saudi Arabia share an identical view of current developments in the region, the Saudi Press Agency's website (http://www.spa.gov.sa) reported on 21 January. On the idea of a Saudi-Egyptian initiative to avert war in Iraq, Prince Saud al-Faysal said, "We cannot say there is an initiative, but we exert efforts along with our brothers in the Arab countries who are concerned over finding a peaceful end to the Iraqi question." Asked whether the meetings addressed the topic of President Hussein stepping down, Prince Saud al-Faysal said, "As for changing the regime in Iraq, Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia always confirm that change should come from inside and not from outside [Iraq], so this issue was not discussed between us." His comments were made at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in Cairo. KR
 UNMOVIC CHIEF COMMENTS ON MEETING WITH IRAQISUNMOVIC head Hans Blix described his meetings with Iraqi officials this week as "positive steps" toward improving relations between weapons inspectors and Iraq, according to a 20 January article on "The New York Times" website (http://www.nytimes.com). "We need to come to an effective and credible inspection process," Blix said, adding, "We have come a long way on that. But there have been hitches on it, and some of these hitches have been solved today." His comments were made to reporters in Athens. According to "The New York Times," Blix said there are many negative points regarding cooperation that can be viewed in a positive light in the inspectors upcoming 27 January report to the UN Security Council if Iraq follows through with commitments it made on 20 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Blix added that, until now, Iraq had not provided the "proactive" cooperation sought by inspectors, adding, "Proactive would require [a] very active effort on their part to bring forward evidence, documents, interviews." KR
 CSIS RELEASES REPORT ON POST-CONFLICT RECONSTRUCTIONThe Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Strategic and International Studies has released a January report titled "A Wiser Peace: An Action Strategy for a Post-Conflict Iraq." The piece outlines 10 key actions that the United States and United Nations must take prior to an armed conflict in Iraq "in order to maximize potential for success in post-conflict Iraq." Recommendations include the creation of a transitional security force, a comprehensive plan to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, the establishment of an "international transitional administration," the facilitation of a "national dialogue," a debt-restructuring program, and a review of sanctions against Iraq. (The report can be viewed and downloaded at http://www.csis.org/isp/wiserpeace.pdf.) KR
 THE EU TAKES A FRESH LOOK AT THE BALKANS, PART 2By Patrick Moore
Many people in the western Balkans concluded by the end of 2002 that the EU had little time for them. NATO did not invite any of them to join the alliance at its Prague summit in November. But NATO at least held out some prospects for membership in the next round of expansion for Partnership for Peace members Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia.
Bosnia and Yugoslavia are not so far along the road to NATO, but the Bosnians at least know that setting up a common Defense Ministry is the main obstacle keeping them from membership in Partnership for Peace. The authorities in Belgrade, for their part, are fully aware that membership for them depends on cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, establishing transparent civilian control over the military, and purging the officer corps of war criminals.
The EU has been less forthcoming with criteria and timetables than NATO, to the point that many in the Balkans have concluded the five countries will be kept indefinitely in limbo. This could be particularly problematic in the cases of Bosnia and Yugoslavia, which are the farthest from meeting EU, as well as NATO criteria. The danger there is that these two countries could become centers of organized crime, smuggling, and corruption in such a way as to become a sort of "black hole" in the midst of the EU.
Croatia could pose a problem of a different sort. As the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 28 December, many Croats fear they have been lumped together with four countries less advanced along the road to meeting EU standards than they are. Those Croats feel their country has been sacrificed like a pawn in a chess game to plans by some powerful forces in Brussels to recreate a regional Balkan association based in Belgrade -- and kept outside the door of full membership in the EU. If such perceptions continue and become widespread, the EU could discover some day that it has unwittingly helped anti-European, nationalist politicians on the right to come to power in Zagreb.
But matters are looking up for those in the western Balkans who want to join the EU. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported from Brussels on 11 January that a recent EU study showed that Albania, Kosova, and Yugoslavia have made great economic progress since the Kosova conflict ended in 1999. One might suggest that any such progress looks impressive because these countries were so badly off that they had nowhere to go but up. Nonetheless, the fact that an EU report drew such a conclusion suggests Brussels might be moving away from the message it only recently sent even to Croatia: Don't call us; we'll call you.
Indeed, there seems to be movement in the EU toward encouraging the countries of the western Balkans, without lowering Brussels' standards. The catalyst appears to be the Greek EU Presidency, which began at the start of this year. From 13-15 January, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou made a whirlwind tour of the five countries, where his message was largely positive. For example, he let Croatia know that its hopes of catching up with Romania and Bulgaria and joining the EU in 2007 are realistic. He also reassured Albania that stabilization and association talks will begin soon.
Even EU Commission President Romano Prodi has been upbeat on the Balkans recently, saying that the bloc's "doors are open" to the countries of the region.
Meanwhile, the Greek EU Presidency can be expected to provide the leadership for its neighbors that many had wished that Greece -- as the only Balkan country belonging to both the EU and NATO -- had provided as soon as communism collapsed in the region over a decade ago. The Greek EU Presidency will be followed by that of Italy for the second half of 2003, and Albania in particular is expecting good things from its powerful neighbor.
Questions, of course, remain. The biggest issue is perhaps whether Yugoslavia and Bosnia can put their houses in sufficient order to meet even minimal EU standards, particularly where the roles of mafia structures in politics, business, and the military are concerned.
Second, the EU will have to take great care not to let those two countries fall so far behind the others that Bosnia and Yugoslavia become isolated. At the same time, Brussels cannot afford to lower its standards for the two, lest Croatia and other hopefuls feel that they have become the victims of a policy of double standards and some sinister Western plot to reestablish Belgrade as the dominant regional center.
Third, all five countries have their homework to do in meeting EU criteria for membership. Politicians in some of them might start by showing more responsibility by rejecting the culture of boycotting parliaments and other institutions that is endemic in much of the region.
Fourth, the status question will have to be addressed sooner rather than later where Kosova is concerned, and probably Montenegro as well. The EU should respect the decisions of the majority of the voters who live there and not try to impose solutions from outside. Zoepel's suggestion regarding the prospect of a common EU citizenship should not be overlooked.
Finally, everyone concerned should be realistic about their expectations. People in the region are deluding themselves if they expect that EU membership will automatically bring them Dutch living standards and a massive infusion of money without efforts and sacrifices on their part.
It will in any event be interesting to see how the EU evolves once its expansion into Eastern Europe and the Balkans is complete. Will it become an increasingly bloated bureaucracy in which important issues can be settled by a telephone call between the French president and German chancellor, or will it develop into a more transparent and democratic community of which all its citizens can be proud?