|Friday, 24 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-09-20
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 MOSCOW TO URGE EXPANSION OF UN SECURITY COUNCILForeign Minister Sergei Lavrov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 September that Russia intends to lobby for changes in the structure of the UN Security Council. Lavrov is scheduled to address the UN's 59th General Assembly on 23 September. Lavrov complained that virtually all decisions on combating international terrorism are currently being made in the United States, which he said has largely succeeded in imposing its own will on questions regarding Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan. He said that he will propose the creation of a UN-coordinated global threat-response system. The newspaper commented that the goal of the proposal is to place the global struggle against terrorism firmly under UN control and to prevent the United States from using the war on terror to advance its own geopolitical aims. Moscow is prepared to endorse Security Council membership for Germany, Japan, Brazil, and India, the daily reported. RC
 SECURITY ORGANS REPORTEDLY THWART MOSCOW CAR-BOMB PLOT...Authorities in Moscow on the night of 17-18 September apparently prevented one or more terrorist acts, Russian media reported on 20 September. The Federal Security Service (FSB) reportedly found a car laden with explosives, which agents were able to liquidate using robot sappers. According to "Vremya novostei," the car was reportedly driven into Moscow by St. Petersburg resident Aleksandr Pumane, who is a retired submariner. He was arrested by authorities and, under questioning, allegedly told police about "several other cars" that were being prepared with explosives. Pumane reportedly said that he had been paid $1,000 to park the car on Kutuzovskii Prospekt, in a spot passed regularly by the motorcades of President Vladimir Putin and other senior officials. RC
 ...AS SUSPECT DIES AFTER THREE-HOUR INTERROGATIONThe 38-year-old Pumane was rushed to a Moscow hospital unconscious early in the morning of 18 September after having been questioned by police and FSB agents for more than three hours, gazeta.ru and other Russian media reported. He died shortly thereafter in the emergency room, reportedly suffering from a massive brain hemorrhage, skull fractures, and injuries to his back, stomach, and hips. Moscow city prosecutors have opened a case in connection with the death on charges of exceeding authority and manslaughter. ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September that Pumane died after suffering a heart attack during questioning. It added that Pumane himself had planted the explosives and that he intended for them to explode when guests of the conference of world mayors were scheduled to visit a museum of the Battle of Borodino on 18 September. RC
 YUKOS PLAYS HARDBALL WITH EXPORTS TO CHINAEmbattled oil giant Yukos will cut its exports to China by two-thirds because of difficulties it is having paying for transportation costs, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 September. The company reportedly decided to cut its exports to China from 150,000 barrels per day to 50,000, and the decision comes just one week before Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is due to visit Moscow. Yukos accounts for almost all of Russia's oil exports to China, the daily reported. "This is a deliberately provocative action by the company at a very sensitive time," Alfa-Bank strategist Chris Weafer was quoted as saying. "It raises the chances of a retaliatory action by the government." An unidentified Yukos source told aksnews.ru on 20 September that "as soon as they unfreeze our accounts, we will immediately renew shipments in full." "We hope the government understands all the risks to the country's reputation in the event of a disruption of exports," the source said. "Especially since the exports are being carried out under an intergovernmental agreement." RC
 NEWSPAPER SAYS FRIDINSKII WILL SPECIALIZE IN COUNTERTERRORISM"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 September that Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii, who was transferred to Moscow from the Southern Federal District last week, will take the place of retired Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov and will specialize in counterterrorism. "Kolmogorov was one of the veterans of the fight against the oligarchs," an unidentified source in the Prosecutor-General's Office told the daily. "But priorities have changed today and terrorists have replaced oligarchs as the national threat." Kolmogorov, who retired in January, was best known for spearheading the case against former oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii. RC
 FOUR INJURED IN RACIALLY MOTIVATED ASSAULT IN MOSCOWFour men from the Caucasus were attacked and beaten on 18 September in a Moscow subway train by a group of 20 to 50 young people, Interfax reported. The four men were hospitalized with contusions and knife wounds, while none of the attackers were captured. Ekho Moskvy reported on 19 September that a case has been opened on charges of inciting ethnic hatred, rather than hooliganism as was previously reported. "Gazeta" reported on 20 September that Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin has apologized to Magomed Tolboev, a Hero of Russia and test pilot from Daghestan who was beaten by two police officers on 9 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2004). "I wanted an official apology," Tolboev told the daily. "I got it. I don't intend to take revenge on anyone." A police spokeswoman told the daily that the department has received 6,585 complaints about police behavior so far this year. Of these, 2,687 were confirmed by department probes and handed over to prosecutors, leading to 198 criminal cases and charges being filed against 127 officers. RC
 FSB OFFICER ARRESTED UNDER SUSPICION HE HELPED CRIMINALS LEAVE THE COUNTRYAn unidentified warrant officer of the FSB's border service has been arrested in Moscow on suspicion that he helped wanted criminals flee the country, Interfax reported on 20 September, citing a Moscow police spokesman. A Palestinian who owns a small travel agency was also reportedly arrested in a sting operation in which a police agent posing as a wanted criminal ordered a fake passport for $1,500. The report did not say how many criminals might have been helped to escape, but it said that police confiscated 10 blank passports, 30 blank air tickets, and 60 forged stamps from various organizations, including departments of the FSB's border service. RC
 GOVERNORS WEIGH IN ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO ELECTION LAWIvanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov has criticized President Putin's new plans for choosing governors as "a step backward" that would foster corruption, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 September. He warned that if regional legislatures are to elect candidates nominated by the president, politicians will bring "sacks of money" to bribe the bureaucrats who advise the president on potential nominees. Tikhonov blamed current problems with governance on the fact that "democratically elected governors do not posses full power within their region." According to "Izvestiya," only two other regional leaders have spoken out against Putin's proposals: Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Butov, who is ineligible to run for a third term and has been implicated in several criminal cases, and Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov. However, two days after Yevdokimov criticized Putin's idea, his press service issued a statement saying that he agreed with all of the president's proposals, "Izvestiya" reported. Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress on 18 September praised Putin's proposals but added that governors chosen under the new system should themselves have greater authority over the "power" agencies (silovoi blok) and the branches of federal agencies and ministries in their regions, ORT reported. LB
 RECALLED NIZHNII NOVGOROD SENATOR MAY KEEP HIS SEATInfluential politicians are seeking to block Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev's decision to recall Yevgenii Bushmin, his representative to the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004), regions.ru reported on 19 September. In an open letter to members of the Nizhnii Novgorod legislature, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov on 18 September warned that recalling Bushmin would "complicate the work of the Federation Council" and "does not serve the interests of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast." Bushmin chairs the Federation Council's Budget Committee, which is working on the 2005 budget. Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko characterized Khodyrev's decision as "illogical" and untimely, "Vedomosti" reported on 17 September, citing ITAR-TASS. Yevgenii Lyulin, chairman of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's legislature, told "Vedomosti" that two-thirds of the region's legislators may vote to block Khodyrev's decision. Even if they do not, "Vedomosti" speculated that Bushmin may continue to chair the Federation Council's Budget Committee as a senator from another region. Bushmin told the daily that he had already received such offers from representatives of two regions, which he declined to name. LB
 DUMA TO CONSIDER NEW MEDIA RESTRICTIONSState Duma Information Policy Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Krutov (Motherland) has drafted amendments to Russia's law on the mass media, which his committee will consider soon, Russian media reported on 17 September. Krutov told Interfax that the amendments would prohibit television networks and radio stations from reporting on hostage crises or counterterrorism operations aimed at freeing hostages. He argued that during such crises, electronic media and television in particular "are in essence mouthpieces, press secretaries of the terrorists." In contrast, "If a terrorist act is not covered -- I emphasize that I am speaking mainly of television -- it largely loses its meaning, because the goal of terrorists is to sow fear not only among hostages, but also to have a great resonance in society." Also on 17 September, a ban came into effect on vendors selling newspapers and magazines inside Moscow metro stations and within a 25-meter radius of metro stations, "Novye izvestiya" reported the same day. The ban is one of the security measures prompted by the 31 August suicide bombing in the metro. A director of a newspaper distribution company predicted that newspaper circulations will "collapse" because of the new restrictions. LB
 MEDIA WATCHDOGS DECRY STATE PRESSURE ON JOURNALISTSThe Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) has presented the OSCE with a report on the work of Russian journalists during the Beslan hostage crisis, Grani.ru reported on 17 September, citing an Ekho Moskvy radio interview with CJES Director Oleg Panfilov. The report describes what Panfilov called "various forms of censorship," including self-censorship by journalists, censorship by editors, and censorship by owners of media outlets, such as what led to the resignation of "Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004). Meanwhile, Bulgarian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi told Ekho Moskvy on 17 September that the OSCE will review a report by its own Commission on Media Freedom, which accused the Russian authorities of concealing information about the Beslan tragedy. Also on 17 September, the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers and World Forum of Editors issued an open letter to Putin criticizing government interference with the media, the CJES reported, citing Voice of America's Russian Service. The open letter argued, "The Russian people have the right to complete information about everything connected to the Beslan tragedy." LB
 REPORT: KREMLIN READY TO PROPOSE ITS CANDIDATE TO TAKE OVER 'IZVESTIYA'Ekho Moskvy on 19 September cited an unidentified Kremlin source as saying that the presidential administration intends to recommend that ProfMedia, the media-holding company of oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros group, hire Vitalii Tretyakov as editor in chief of the influential daily "Izvestiya." Tretyakov, who was the founder and long-time editor of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and who is now a columnist for "Rossiiskaya gazeta," told the station that he has received no such offer. Former "Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Shakirov resigned on 6 September over the daily's coverage of the Beslan hostage drama (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2004). RC
 LIBERALS SEEK REFERENDUM TO END THE DRAFTThe Soldiers' Mothers Committee, Yabloko, the Union of Rightist Forces, and Free Choice-2008 Committee are seeking to call a referendum on replacing the draft with a professional, all-volunteer army, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 17 September. The drive was prompted by a Defense Ministry proposal to limit military-draft deferments, since demographic trends are reducing the number of draft-age men in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). A recent survey by the Levada Analytical Center found 72 percent in favor of a professional army and just 23 percent for preserving the draft. However, a new federal constitutional law on referendums, approved by the parliament this summer, puts huge obstacles before groups wishing to call a referendum, "Novye izvestiya" noted. Among other things, advocates must collect at least 2 million signatures, with no more than 50,000 signatures from any single Russian region, using only registered signature collectors of whom there can be at most 100 in any region. The Central Election Commission, Supreme Court, and Constitutional Court must all approve the wording of the referendum question. Soldiers' Mothers Committee Chairwoman Valentina Melnikova told "Novye izvestiya" that if they fail to get the referendum on the ballot, they will challenge the law on referendums in the Constitutional Court. LB
 LITHUANIA SHUTS DOWN CHECHEN WEBSITELithuania will take steps in the near future to close the Chechen website www.kavkaz-center.com, BNS quoted Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas as saying following a Defense Committee meeting in Vilnius on 17 September, Reuters reported. The site, which is sympathetic to the Chechen resistance, posted earlier on 17 September radical field commander Shamil Basaev's claim of responsibility for the Beslan hostage taking and for the downing on 24 August of two Russian passenger aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2004). On 13 September, the Russian Foreign Ministry formally demanded that Lithuanian Ambassador to Russia Rimantas Sidlauskas see that the site was closed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). On 18 September, kavkaz-center.com posted a statement saying that its Internet service provider Elnet has rejected pressure from the Lithuanian security service to close the site, after which Lithuanian Telecom blocked the site's server. The site's staff rejected allegations that the posting of Basaev's statement served to fuel interreligious and interethnic hatred, noting that Basaev sent the same statement by e-mail to numerous other media outlets which have not been subject to similar accusations for publicizing it. LF
 OSCE CHAIRMAN VOICES READINESS TO HELP RESOLVE CHECHEN CONFLICTBulgarian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Pasi told Ekho Moskvy on 17 September in Moscow that although the OSCE has no mandate to mediate a solution for the Chechen conflict, the OSCE is ready to offer specific proposals for doing so, according to www.chechenpress.info on 18 September. "The OSCE could help and catalyze specific processes," Pasi said. He added that the primary responsibility for finding a solution lies with the conflict participants, and that no international organization can impose a solution against their will. Also on 18 September, ITAR-TASS quoted Pasi as telling journalists while flying back to Sofia that he discussed with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov economic and humanitarian projects that the OSCE is ready to implement in Chechnya. LF
 PRO-MOSCOW CHECHENS APPALLED BY PROPOSED PARDON FOR RUSSIAN OFFICERChechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov and State Council speaker Taus Dzhabrailov have both categorically condemned the proposal by the Ulyanovsk pardons commission to pardon Colonel Yurii Budanov, Reuters and chechenpress.info reported on 17 and 19 September respectively. Budanov was sentenced in July 2003 to 10 years' imprisonment for the rape and murder in early 2000 of a young Chechen woman. Four months ago he filed an application with the Ulyanovsk pardons commission for a pardon, but almost immediately withdrew it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003 and 18 and 20 May 2004). Dmitrii Kozak, named last week by President Putin as presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District, told "Vesti nedeli" that such a pardon is a presidential prerogative, and that he does not exclude it in the case of Budanov who, Kozak pointed out, has spent four years in custody, according to www.ingushetiya.ru. Kadyrov, for his part, warned that "we shall not allow this criminal to be released," according to www.chechenpress.info. He termed the pardon commission's proposal "spitting in the souls of the long-suffering Chechen people." LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PRESIDENTIAL VOTE OF CONFIDENCEHundreds of members of the Artarutiun opposition bloc adopted a formal statement at a congress in Yerevan on 17 September in which they again affirmed that a nationwide vote of confidence in President Robert Kocharian is essential to defuse the political crisis resulting from last year's flawed presidential ballot, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement listed 37 specific accusations, including failure to solve political murders, the falsification of election results, and the closure of two independent television stations. Artarutiun members said they will not resume their campaign of public street protests, but failed to specify how they intend to coerce the authorities to agree to a plebiscite. LF
 KARABAKH STRONGMAN PARDONEDArkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), has amnestied 13 people serving prison terms for various crimes, including former Defense Minister and armed forces commander Samvel Babayan, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 17 September. Babayan was jailed in February 2001 for 14 years for allegedly masterminding an attempt 11 months earlier to assassinate Ghukasian, with whom he was then engaged in a clandestine power struggle. Babayan initially confessed to plotting the murder attempt, but later retracted that confession, saying it was extracted under torture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 24 March and 14 December 2000 and 27 February 2001). Babayan reportedly traveled immediately after his release to Yerevan, where he has an apartment; he is barred from holding a senior government post in the NKR for the next five years. LF
 GEORGIA HOPES FOR BETTER RELATIONS WITH RUSSIAGeorgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 17 September that he hopes the "frank and productive" meeting the previous day on the sidelines of the CIS Summit in Astana between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will herald a new stage in bilateral relations, Caucasus Press reported. Bezhuashvili noted that Russia has agreed to lift the restrictions on travel between Russian and Georgia imposed last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2004). He stressed Tbilisi's willingness to cooperate with Russia to combat terrorism by such measures as exchanging information, conducting joint border patrols, and establishing an antiterrorism center. On 18 September, Russian and Georgian border guards conducted a joint helicopter patrol of part of their shared border, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 RUSSIA AGAIN ALLEGES TERRORIST PRESENCE IN GEORGIARussian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin said in Orenburg on 17 September that there are still terrorist bases and training camps in Georgia, primarily in the Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles said four days earlier that he believes there are still some international terrorists in Pankisi, although far fewer than before the joint Georgian-U.S. campaign to apprehend or expel them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004). Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told Caucasus Press on 18 September that Tbilisi cannot exclude the possibility that there are "people who sympathize with terrorists" in Pankisi, and is ready to grant international monitors access to the region. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION CRITICIZES MILITARY OPERATION IN SOUTH OSSETIADeputies from the New Rightists and the Republican Party of Georgia criticized on 16 September the Georgian military's tactics during the clashes in South Ossetia over the past three months, Caucasus Press reported. New Rightists leader David Gamkrelidze said those tactics were "impulsive, chaotic, and resulted in an absolute fiasco" and the deaths of several dozen people, for which President Mikheil Saakashvili, as commander in chief, should be held responsible. Republican Ivliane Khaindrava accused the Georgian leadership of reacting irresponsibly during the crisis. Responding to that criticism, Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili told parliament that only 16 Georgian servicemen were killed during fighting in South Ossetia. Okruashvili said the Georgian leadership's actions to curtail smuggling in the region were "correct," and that large-scale hostilities were avoided. LF
 SOUTH OSSETIA ACCUSES GEORGIA OF PREPARING NEW OFFENSIVEThe authorities of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia said on 17 September that Georgia has amassed 5,500 servicemen in or near the conflict zone ready to launch a new offensive in late September, Caucasus Press reported. On 18 September, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity is ready to meet "in the nearest future" with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Caucasus Press reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said Kokoity has no objections to the OSCE's plan to increase from five to 13 the number of its observers in the South Ossetian conflict zone, provided that their mandate is not broadened and they do not show any pro-Georgian bias. LF
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST CHALLENGES PRESIDENT TO TELEVISED DEBATELabor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili told a press conference in Tbilisi on 17 September that he has challenged President Saakashvili to a live televised debate, Caucasus Press and www.rustavi2.com reported. Natelashvili argued that Saakashvili should explain why he has failed to deliver on his pre-election promises and "why our traditions are being destroyed, why everything from the railways to the mines is being sold, and why graduates of Georgian universities are forced to emigrate in search of employment while graduates of foreign universities are appointed to senior government posts." Natelashvili also demanded Saakashvili's explanation as to why Georgia "lost the recent war in South Ossetia." LF
 EARLY RESULTS SHOW WIN FOR KAZAKH PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTIESPreliminary results of 19 September elections to Kazakhstan's Mazhilis, or lower chamber of parliament, showed pro-presidential parties with a commanding lead, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 19 September. Central Election Commission officials said that the pro-presidential Otan party led the tally with 43 percent. The pro-presidential Asar party, led by presidential daughter Darigha Nazarbaeva, placed second with 19 percent. Moderate opposition party Ak Zhol was in third with over 16 percent, and the pro-presidential AIST bloc of the Civic and Agrarian parties was in fourth with 8.3 percent. Other parties received less than the 7 percent minimum required to gain entry to parliament through party slates, although the opposition bloc of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan had 6.2 percent of the votes counted. Of the 77 seats in the legislature, 10 are allotted on the basis of party lists and 67 chosen through single-mandate constituencies. Election commission officials put turnout at 53.75 percent, with 18 percent of voters using the controversial Saylau electronic-voting system. Official results are to be announced within five days. DK
 KAZAKH OFFICIALS EXPLAIN REFUSAL TO ACCREDIT HELSINKI OBSERVERSKazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a press release on 17 September detailing their refusal to accredit 29 observers from the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights to monitor the 19 September parliamentary elections, Kazinform reported. The Foreign Ministry said that the Helsinki Federation presented only a list of observers' last names on 13 September. By the time more complete information was received on 14 September, it was already too late to accredit the observers, as election legislation stipulates that the accreditation process must be completed within five days of elections. RIA-Novosti quoted the Foreign Ministry press release as saying, "By failing to provide information in a timely fashion, the International Helsinki Federation made a conscious attempt to discredit the official structures that are conducting elections and to accuse them without a firm basis of denying accreditation for political reasons." DK
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT UNVEILS GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING PLANPresident Nursultan Nazarbaev announced far-reaching plans on 17 September to slim down and restructure government agencies and ministries, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Under the proposed reforms, the Environmental Protection Ministry will become the Ecology and Natural Resources Ministry. The Agency for Emergency Situations will become the Ministry for Emergency Situations, Channel 31 reported. The Customs Control Agency will become part of the Finance Ministry; the Demography and Migration Agency will be merged into the Labor and Social Security Ministry; and the Information Ministry will be folded into a new Ministry of Culture, Information, and Sports. A new holding company will be set up by year's end to manage state-owned companies, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The president instructed the cabinet to submit "all necessary documents" within 10 days, Channel 31 reported. DK
 KAZAKHSTAN TO INVEST IN TAJIK HYDROPOWER PROJECTPresident Nazarbaev informed Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov during a 16 September meeting in Astana that Kazakhstan plans to enter the consortium to build Tajikistan's Sangtuda hydropower plant, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Kazakhstan will initially invest $30 million in the project. Nazarbaev said, "Kazakh specialists are now assessing the financial aspects and we eventually intend to invest in the Rogun hydropower station [as well]." Iran and Russia have already announced plans to provide, respectively, $250 million and $100 million for the construction of the Sangtuda plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2004). DK
 TAJIKISTAN UN DEBT COULD IMPERIL VOTE IN GENERAL ASSEMBLYUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has indicated in a letter that Tajikistan could lose its vote in the UN General Assembly for failing to pay off its $1.25 million debt to the world body, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 17 September. But Tajik Deputy Foreign Minister Salahuddin Nasriddinov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service the same day that his country has not received any specific communication from the UN. "There is an agreement between the UN Secretariat and Tajikistan that obligates Tajikistan to pay off its debts to the UN over a 10-year period," he said. "We have not received any specific information from the secretariat about paying off the debt in the near future." DK
 RUSSIAN PUNDITS ADDRESS TAJIK-RUSSIAN RELATIONSGleb Pavlovskii, president of the Moscow-based Effective Politics Foundation, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 17 September that the transfer of the Tajik-Afghan border from Russian to Tajik control will not harm Tajik-Russian relations. But Pavlovskii said: "For Russia, the key aspect of its relations with Tajikistan is security on the whole and the fight against drug trafficking. If Tajik authorities solve these problems on their own, everything is fine. For now, however, Tajikistan is not capable of this." Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, was more categorical. He told Asia-Plus, "If Russia removes its troops from Tajikistan, the country will be defenseless." He continued: "Unfortunately, the Tajik leadership has, under pressure from the United States, somewhat changed its foreign-policy orientation. If [Tajik] officials once sought support in Moscow, now they look more to the Americans." DK
 REGIONAL GOVERNOR REMOVED AS UZBEK PRESIDENT SLAMS CORRUPTIONPresident Islam Karimov issued a decree on 17 September appointing Ikromkhon Najmiddinov, currently minister of agriculture and water resources, governor of Uzbekistan's eastern Namangan region, UzA reported. Former Governor Tolqin Jabborov was relieved the same day at his own request. Also on 17 September, Karimov attended an extraordinary session of Namangan's Council of People's Deputies devoted to criticism of the situation in the province and corruption among local officials, Uzbek TV reported. The president lambasted regional officials for improper land grants and embezzlement, announcing that a number of investigations are already under way. DK
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REJOICES AT BUMPER CROP...President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a national harvest festival in Vaukavysk in Hrodna Oblast on 18 September that state-run collective farms harvested more than 7 million tons of grain this year, Belapan reported. Together with the crop gathered by peasants on their personal land plots, Lukashenka added, Belarus harvested almost 8 million tons of grain. Lukashenka said 2004 will go down in history as a breakthrough year in which the government achieved "an appreciable result from the implementation of the purposeful and consistent policy aimed at the all-round development of the agricultural sector and our countryside." Lukashenka pledged to seek the financial self-sufficiency of the agricultural sector in the next five years. According to official data, some 55 percent of enterprises in the agricultural sector were loss-making in early 2004 and needed support from the state budget to stay afloat. Belarus's grain crop in 2003 amounted to 5.5 million tons. JM
 ...AND VOWS TOLERANCE TOWARD OPPOSITION, FOR THE TIME BEINGPresident Lukashenka told journalists in Vaukavysk on 18 September that he could ban several opposition parties "even today" for violations of the country's legislation, the presidential website (http://www.president.gov.by) reported. Lukashenka added, however, that he has refrained from doing so in order to avoid the "clamor" that he is clamping down on the opposition in the run-up to the 17 October parliamentary elections and presidential referendum. "As long as they continue getting together in their own shell and do not take people to the streets, we tolerate them," the Belarusian president said. He added that he is well aware that the Belarusian opposition's election campaign is being illegally financed from five sources: individual Russian oligarchs, Belarusian emigrants, the United States, various European funds, and individual domestic businessmen. JM
 UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES PENSIONS FOR MORE THAN 11 MILLION PEOPLEPrime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet on 18 September decided to double the minimum monthly pension from the current 137 hryvnyas to 284.6 hryvnyas ($54), which is the country's subsistence minimum for disabled persons, as of September, Ukrainian media reported. According to First Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, nearly 11.4 million pensioners in Ukraine will start receiving higher pensions this week as a result of the cabinet's decision. Azarov said the pension surge became possible, among other reasons, due to a surplus in the budget's revenues from privatization. Ukrainian Pension Fund head Borys Zaychuk said the pension jump will increase the fund's monthly expenses by 1.1 billion hryvnyas ($207 million) to 4.1 billion hryvnyas. JM
 OUR UKRAINE LEADER RESUMES PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN AFTER BOUT OF POISONINGSome 70,000 gathered in Kyiv on 18 September for a campaign rally by presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko resumed his presidential campaign after a two-week interruption caused by a bout of acute poisoning, which was blamed by some opposition activists on an alleged attempt on Yushchenko's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). Yushchenko, who came for the rally almost directly from a clinic in Vienna, told the crowd that the past two weeks were the "most tragic" period in his life. He said the current authorities are "in their death throes" and assured rally participants that he will win this fall's presidential elections. He also pledged to immediately pull the Ukrainian military contingent out of Iraq after his anticipated victory. Yushchenko's campaign staff submitted 1.7 million signatures in support of his candidacy to the Central Election Commission on 19 September. Each presidential candidate needs to supply at least 500,000 signatures in support of his or her candidacy by 20 September in order to be allowed on the ballot. JM
 RADICALS AND DEMOCRATS ARE AHEAD IN SERBIAN LOCAL ELECTIONSAbout 35 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots on 19 September for local officials in 148 municipalities across Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Preliminary, incomplete results indicate strong support for Tomislav Nikolic's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and Serbian President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party. Parties belonging to the governing coalition of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica did relatively poorly, reinforcing recent trends suggesting that pro-reform voters are aligning themselves with the Democrats while hard-line nationalists are gravitating toward the Radicals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). Results nonetheless appear to have varied from region to region. Mayors are being directly elected for the first time in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, and Kragujevac. In Belgrade, Radical candidate Aleksandar Vucic will face the Democrats' Nenad Bogdanovic in a 3 October runoff. Vucic is best known as a former information minister and author of a press law under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The low turnout appears to reflect "voter fatigue" regarding the eighth Serbian election in two years. Tadic nonetheless told reporters that the vote shows that extremism has no future. PM
 SERBIAN RADICAL LEADER CALLS FOR 'ALL SERBS IN ONE STATE'Serbian Radical Party (SRS) Nikolic told the Sarajevo weekly "Slobodna Bosna" recently that Bosnian Serbs should be free to hold a plebiscite on leaving the "artificial" Bosnian state and annexing the Republika Srpska to Serbia, Reuters reported on 19 September. He said that all Serbs belong in one state and that he "will not rest politically" until that happens. "I insist on everyone being on his own territory. That is my political stand under which Serbia, Montenegro, the Republika Srpska, and, God willing, the [former] Republic of Serbian Krajina [in Croatia], should all be in one state," he argued. The news agency noted that this is the second time in one month that Nikolic has taken his greater Serbian message to Bosnia-Herzegovina, following a recent appearance in Bijeljina near the Serbian border. "All Serbs in one state" was a slogan of former President Milosevic at the start of the conflicts in the early 1990s. PM
 GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS TO CLARIFY KOSOVA'S FINAL STATUSGerman Defense Minister Peter Struck told Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" of 18 September that a political solution is needed for Kosova, including granting more responsibility to President Ibrahim Rugova and the other elected officials of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004). Struck argued that "there will be no peace without a resolution of the status question and a guarantee of the most important standards." He added, however, that the international agreement necessary to resolve the issue is a "long way" off. Struck stressed that one lesson of the 17-18 March ethnic violence, which was the worst in the province since NATO forces arrived in 1999, is that NATO cannot be expected to remain there for another five years. The minister noted that it makes little sense to try to protect isolated settlements of primarily elderly Serbs. Struck recently called for the consolidation of scattered settlements in order to reduce costs and enable troops to be used more efficiently. PM
 UN APPEALS TO SERBIAN GOVERNMENT OVER UNIVERSITY IN KOSOVAA spokeswoman for the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) said in Prishtina on 17 September that it will not renew accreditation for the Serbian Mitrovica University following the recent election of Radivoje Papovic as its rector, Reuters reported. Papovic was responsible for the Serbianization of Kosova's educational system under Milosevic in the 1990s. An unnamed Western diplomat told the news agency that Papovic's election to the rector's post was probably the work of former Serbian Education Minister Ljiljana Colic, who recently resigned after her decision to ban Charles Darwin's theory of evolution from Serbian classrooms made her an international laughingstock and embarrassment to the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 10, and 16 September 2004). UNMIK's latest decision means that Mitrovica University's diplomas will not be recognized outside Kosova. The spokeswoman appealed to Belgrade to take unspecified steps so as not to "undermine the future of the students." PM
 MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTIONThe Macedonian parliament rejected a no-confidence motion against the government that was moved by legislators from the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the Liberal Party, and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) on 18 September, MIA news agency reported. Sixty-seven members of parliament voted against the motion, while only 22 supported it. During the debate preceding the vote, Prime Minister Hari Kostov acknowledged that the government's main weakness was bad financial planning in some ministries. Opposition lawmakers complained that the debate had been deliberately scheduled in such a way so as to exclude their participation, according to "Dnevnik" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). UB
 FORMER ALBANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS 'FLYING COFFINS' SENT TO A MUSEUMPerikli Teta said in Tirana on 17 September that the country's entire fleet of 79 Chinese-made MiG-19 fighters should be grounded or sent to a museum, Reuters reported. His remarks came in response to the recent explosion in mid-air of one of the planes, killing the pilot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004). Noting that "even Third World countries do not fly" the MiG-19 anymore, Teta argued that if grounding them "means that Albania will have just two planes, let it be two proper ones." The Albanian military possesses about 200 largely obsolete aircraft. Some press commentators also called for an end to the practice whereby Tirana's Mother Teresa Airport at Rinas serves as both a civilian and a military facility. PM
 ROMANIA, UKRAINE RAISE DIPLOMATIC TENSION...Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 17 September that Romania has asked Ukraine to remove buoys in the Danube River allegedly placed illegally on Romanian territory, Romanian media reported. Romania filed a complaint on 16 September against Ukraine at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, in order to settle a dispute on delimiting the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones in the Black Sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2004). A 19 September Romanian Foreign Ministry statement considers the opening of a Ukrainian bank office on Serpents Island as "a desperate attempt at changing the actual situation" ahead of the ICJ proceedings. The release says Ukraine attempted to change "artificially the natural characteristics of this rock...that according to international law does not qualify for having a continental plateau and exclusive economic zone." The private Ukrainian Aval bank opened an office on the island on 15 September, saying there are prospects for infrastructure-development projects. According to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Motsyk said on 17 September that the two countries haven't used all possible methods to solve the conflict by direct negotiations. He added that Ukraine is nevertheless looking forward to the court's decision, which could disappoint Romania. Romania has also recalled its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations in Bucharest. ZsM
 ...AS ROMANIA CONTINUES PRESSURE ON UKRAINE OVER CANALA 16-17 September meeting in Vienna of the International Commission on the Protection of the Danube River's permanent working group asked Ukraine to halt the construction of the Bystraya canal in the Danube Delta, Mediafax reported on 17 September, citing a Romanian Foreign Ministry release. On 17 September Geoana also announced that Romania plans to organize an international conference in Geneva on the issue of the controversial deep-water shipping canal in the delta. The group asked Ukraine to postpone continuing the canal until a comprehensive environmental-impact assessment can be completed. ZsM
 FORMER FRENCH MINISTER NAMED RAPPORTEUR FOR ROMANIAThe European Parliament named former French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici as rapporteur for Romania, replacing Emma Nicholson, Mediafax reported on 17 September. Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said Moscovici will be "an objective and extremely competent rapporteur, whom Romania needs." Moscovici is the son of sociologist Serge Moscovici, who was born in Romania. ZsM
 TRANSDNIESTER SCHOOL SCANDAL CONTINUESIon Iovcev, director of the Lucian Blaga school in Tiraspol, said on 18 September that local authorities are pressuring parents to transfer their children to other, Russian-language schools in the city, Flux reported. The school was closed down by the authorities on 15 July and reportedly damaged by Tiraspol police for teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script. Local authorities reportedly threaten parents that if they do not transfer their children, they could lose their jobs, and risk being investigated for not granting their children the right to education. In related news, 170 Moldovan school directors signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking him to intervene in order to restore teaching at the Romanian-language schools in Transdniester. ZsM
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 U.S. MILITARY APOLOGIZES FOR KILLING AFGHAN TEENAGERScott Nelson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, apologized on 18 September for the killing of an Afghan in the southern Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. In an incident that occurred on 17 September, U.S. forces killed one Afghan teenager and wounded another in Oruzgan Province, north of Zabul, Reuters reported on 18 September. In an apparent mistake, Radio Afghanistan identified the place where the incident occurred as Zabul. A statement released by the U.S. military said that the "coalition deeply regrets and apologizes for the death of one juvenile and wounding of another." In 2003, U.S. forces in Afghanistan came under criticism for killing 15 children in botched operations, Reuters commented. AT
 AFGHAN JOURNALIST SAYS KARZAI WOULD LACK LEGITIMACY WITHOUT QANUNIIn an interview with Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 17 September, "Kabul Weekly" Editor in Chief Fahim Dashti said that a future presidency of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai would lack legitimacy if it did not include Mohammad Yunos Qanuni and his allies. Dashti said that talks are under way between Karzai and his former education minister and current chief rival in the elections on forming a coalition. A coalition government between Karzai and Qanuni and his allies that includes Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, among others, "may ensure stability in the country," Dashti said. According to Dashti, both sides are under "international pressure" to form an alliance. While Karzai has wavered on whether or not he is going to form an alliance with one or more of the 17 challengers he is facing, on 16 September he said that if Qanuni joined him, he would welcome it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2004). Observers believe that Karzai's international backers are keen to have him elected by more than 50 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a second round. As such, the presence of 17 challengers to Karzai may result in him securing less than the required percentage, but with Qanuni's camp on his side, he is likely to receive more than 50 percent. AT
 EDITORIAL REJECTS POSTPONING ELECTIONSIn an editorial on 19 September, the Kabul daily "Erada" said that the demand by a number of presidential candidates that the 9 October election be postponed for one more month is not in the interest of Afghanistan. According to the editorial, the candidates' reason for postponing the election is the short period for campaigning. However, "Erada" argues that these candidates voiced their concern after various dates concerning the elections were already announced and campaigning had begun, not before it. Moreover, according to "Erada," if the elections were pushed back one month, cold weather would make it difficult for many Afghans to travel to polling stations. "In addition, if the elections are postponed, the presence of too many presidential candidates and their conflicting opinions and platforms will psychologically affect our countrymen," the editorial added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2004). AT
 TWO PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES VIEW ISLAM AS CENTRAL TO AFGHANISTANIn a campaign speech, presidential candidate Abdul Hafez Mansur said, "Afghanistan could not have a successful and healthy government if there is no respect for Islamic principles in the country," Afghanistan Television reported on 16 September. Experience has shown that any kind of activities against Islam in Afghanistan will fail, Mansur added. He said that he favors an independent judiciary system in Afghanistan that is not appointed by the government, but he did not say who should appoint the judicial branch, which is currently dominated by conservative clerics. Mansur accused Karzai's administration of "carrying out antireligion and anti-jihad activities and humiliating the mujahedin." Presidential candidate Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai said that he wants to "establish an Islamic system in Afghanistan because 99.9 percent of the people in the country are Muslims, and it is not possible to establish any other kind of system in Afghanistan," Afghanistan Television reported on 19 September. According to Ahmadzai, "the official identity of the people of Afghanistan" is first their religion and then their nationality. Mansur is a member of the Jami'at-e Islami party and Ahmadzai is a member of the Harakat-e Enqelab-e Eslami party -- two former mujahedin parties -- but both are running as independent candidates. AT
 IAEA CRITICAL OF IRANIAN NUCLEAR COOPERATION...The resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors on 18 September takes a relatively tough view of Iran's cooperation with the nuclear watchdog (http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2004/gov2004-79.pdf). The resolution notes "with serious concern" that Iran has not suspended "all" activities relating to the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, and it also expresses concern about Iran's plan to introduce 37 tons of yellowcake uranium at its conversion facility. Yellowcake can be converted into uranium hexafluoride, which in turn can be enriched in centrifuges. The resolution also "strongly urges" Iran to comply with IAEA requests for information and access to individuals and locations, citing a date of 25 November, which is when the next board of governors meeting takes place. The resolution "deeply regrets" Iran's reversal of stated intentions of suspending enrichment and reprocessing activities. BS
 ...WHILE TEHRAN REMAINS DEFIANTTehran reacted to the IAEA resolution with a mixture of defiance and injured pride. Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said on 19 September that his country's suspension of uranium enrichment is at an end. "In regard to the suspension of uranium enrichment, the resolution has asked us to suspend this process immediately," he said, according to Radio Farda. "For the time being, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not decided to prolong the suspension." Rohani continued, according to Radio Farda: "The Islamic Republic of Iran never committed to any kind of suspension [of nuclear activities] at any time. And you know that in the statement of Tehran, this point was mentioned very clearly -- the suspension is voluntary by the Iranian government as part of confidence-building measures with the IAEA. Therefore, the Islamic Republic of Iran has never committed to any suspension. We already have declared and we are repeating it again today that any kind of obligation to suspend [uranium-enrichment] activities is not acceptable to us." BS
 IRANIAN LEGISLATURE REJECTS IAEA RESOLUTIONParliamentary presiding board member Alireza Zakani read out a statement on 19 September from more than 200 of his colleagues in which they rejected the previous day's IAEA resolution on Iran, IRNA reported. They also threatened to not ratify the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if the board of governors does not mend its ways. The legislators vowed that Iran will continue working on all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle regardless of such resolutions. Parliamentary speaker Gholamali Haddad-Adel said on 19 September that Iran will enrich uranium if it deems it necessary, and it will discontinue enrichment if it is unnecessary, IRNA reported. He said the IAEA cannot order Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. BS
 TEHRAN REJECTS NEGOTIATIONS WITH WASHINGTON"There is no one in America to negotiate with right now," Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rohani said at a 19 September press conference in Tehran when asked if the time has come for negotiations with the United States, Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. Rohani recommended waiting until the November presidential elections take place. He went on to say that Tehran is not avoiding speaking with Washington and the two sides have participated in multilateral discussions, but the time for "comprehensive" negotiations has not come yet. Rohani attributed the lack of dialogue on the nuclear subject to U.S. intransigence, saying: "I do not want to say that we completely refuse negotiations with America concerning [ Iran's] nuclear dossier. But the Americans themselves, for their inappropriate stances and also the pressures they have exerted on the agency, have caused the problem.... When they resort to such intimidating or bullying methods, we may say that the Americans themselves are the ones who kill the opportunities." Rohani added that the United States could have been part of the negotiations between Iran, Germany, Britain, and France in October 2003. BS
 IRAN RAMPS UP SUPPORT FOR IRAQI INSURGENCYPersonnel from British military intelligence and MI6 have determined that a cell within Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) is the main source of money and training for insurgents in southern Iraq, "The Sunday Times" reported on 19 September. The IRGC cell reportedly has flooded Al-Basrah with thousands of U.S. dollars and is providing Shi'a militiamen with weapons -- including a rocket-propelled grenade with a special warhead -- and tactical training. Officials from the U.S. State and Defense departments, as well as military officials, also assert that money, arms, and even personnel are getting to radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from Iran, "The Washington Post" reported on 20 September. Al-Sadr reportedly has the backing of many poor Iraqi youths but has alienated, among others, the moderate Shi'ite business class, the daily reported. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the extent of Iranian support for the insurgency is unclear. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said on 14 September there is "no doubt" that money comes from Iran and Syria and he mentioned a shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile being smuggled in from Iran. In a possible effort to recreate Hizballah's success in Lebanon, Iran is funding hospitals, clinics, and social services in parts of Iraq not reached by the central government, U.S. administration officials told "The Washington Post." BS
 MILITANT GROUP KILLS THREE KDP MEMBERS IN IRAQThe militant group Ansar Al-Sunnah Army posted a video on its website (http://www.ansar-alsunnah.8k.com) on 19 September purportedly depicting the beheadings of three hostages from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The men were abducted while transporting military vehicles from Kurdistan to a camp in Al-Taji. Two of the victims identified themselves in the videotape, both as being from the KDP branch in Zakho, located north of Dahuk on the Iraqi border with Turkey. The third man did not identify himself. Kurdistan Satellite Television reported that the men were on a personal visit to Baghdad when they were abducted. The three bodies were returned to Zakho for burial on 19 September, the television channel reported. KR
 SUNNI CLERIC ASSASSINATED IN BAGHDADSheikh Hazim al-Zaydi, a member of the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association, has been assassinated in the Shi'ite-dominated Al-Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Al-Jazeera reported on 20 September. A spokesman for the association said that al-Zaydi's body was found in front of the Al-Sajjad Mosque. He was the rapporteur for the association's Follow-up and Coordination Department, the satellite news channel reported. KR
 15 IRAQI NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIERS KIDNAPPEDA militant group identifying itself as the Muhammad bin Abdallah Brigades said on 19 September that it has kidnapped 15 Iraqi National Guard soldiers, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. The group said in a statement that it will kill the soldiers unless multinational forces release cleric Hazim al-A'raji, who is an associate of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-A'raji was arrested by U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces in an 18 September raid. Al-Sadr aide Hasan al-Zarqani told Al-Jazeera from Beirut on 20 September that al-Sadr had nothing to do with the kidnapping. "Kidnapping is not our style, let alone killing. The time has not yet come for us to follow this method," al-Zarqani said. KR
 MILITANT GROUP HOLDING 10 TURKISH WORKERS REISSUES DEMANDA group identifying itself as the Abu Bakr al-Sidiq Salafist Brigades said on 18 September that it will kill 10 Turkish workers in Iraq within three days unless their employer withdraws from Iraq, international media reported. The group kidnapped the men some 10 days ago. It first issued its ultimatum last week, and reiterated its demand on 18 September, Istanbul's NTV reported on the following day. The men's employer has said that the firm has no ties to multinational forces in Iraq, and is involved in reconstruction projects. Iraqi police reportedly said that another 10 Turkish workers -- all truck drivers -- were killed or abducted north of Baghdad on 19 September, when their convoy of four trucks was attacked, NTV reported. One eyewitness told NTV that five of the drivers were abducted, while the other five were killed. KR
 U.S., U.K. HOSTAGES STILL MISSINGThere is no word on the fate of one U.K. and two U.S. nationals taken hostage in Iraq last week by militants loyal to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The group has threatened to kill the men by 20 September unless multinational forces release all Iraqi female detainees held in the Abu Ghurayb and Um Qasr prisons, Reuters reported on 20 September. Meanwhile, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television cited Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Hamid al-Bayati as saying on 19 September that he believes a criminal gang kidnapped two Italian aid workers and their two Iraqi colleagues and sold them to the Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad militant group loyal to al-Zarqawi. Al-Bayati said that the kidnappers in both cases issued the same demands, namely the release of Iraqi detainees. Meanwhile, there were reports on 19 September that two French hostages have been released from captivity after agreeing to cover the news from their captors' point of view. French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin cautioned the media, however, saying that there is no evidence that the men have been released, Europe 1 Radio reported on 19 September. KR
 FOREIGN MINISTER HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR UN ASSISTANCEHoshyar al-Zebari told BBC television on 19 September that the international community is not doing enough to help Iraq prepare for elections. "The Iraqi people want elections and we will ask for more international aid and assistance from the United Nations, especially under the new Security Council Resolution 1446, they [the UN] are the ones who are supposed to help us organize and prepare these elections, but unfortunately they are not doing enough to help us," al-Zebari said. "Up to now, they have only about 30 international staff in Baghdad...really this number is insufficient to organize an election for 10 million people." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a 14 September report to the Security Council that security remains an obstacle for UN staff in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 September 2004). Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on 19 September that the interim government plans to stick to the January election timetable, the BBC reported on 19 September. Allawi is in London ahead of a planned trip to the United States. He met with U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair on 19 September, and will meet Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on 20 September. KR
 A STABILITY PACT FOR THE CAUCASUS?By Ulrich Buechsenschuetz
In the wake of the Beslan hostage crisis, many politicians outside Russia have publicly wondered how to support Moscow in its fight against terrorism and how to resolve the ongoing tensions in the North Caucasus.
One of these politicians was Gernot Erler, the foreign-policy spokesman for the governing Social Democratic Party of Germany's parliamentary group, and also the government's coordinator for German-Russian relations. Erler also holds the chairmanship of Germany's largest association for Balkan studies, the Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft. As chairman of this organization, he is familiar with conflict-resolution efforts in the Balkans.
One of those efforts was the EU-led Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, which brought together more than 40 countries, organizations (including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE), and institutions (such as the World Bank and the IMF). The members of the pact "undertook [in 1999] to strengthen the countries of South Eastern Europe 'in their efforts to foster peace, democracy, respect for human rights and economic prosperity in order to achieve stability in the whole region,'" according to the pact's website (http://www.stabilitypact.org). In practice, the pact does not hand out money or have a military/security component, but serves as a clearing house, coordinating foreign investment and infrastructure projects.
With the Stability Pact in mind, Erler, in a 9 September interview with the German Internet publication netzeitung.de, proposed establishing a similar pact for the Caucasus. In Erler's opinion, a peace plan for the Caucasus should have a three-step strategy. He said that the first thing to do is to make a "sober and honest assessment" of the present Russian policy toward Chechnya. In this regard, the Russian government must provide its citizens with a realistic assessment of the situation in Chechnya and the northern Caucasus, because the government's policy of reiterating that the security situation is constantly improving has proved to be "less than convincing," as Erler put it.
Second, Erler said, it would be a decisive step forward if the Russian government took steps to stop illegal victimization of Chechen civilians by Russian security forces and the private army commanded by Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. This could help undercut the radical Chechen fighters' ability to recruit young men intent on avenging the murder or disappearance of their relatives.
As the third part of the Caucasus peace plan, Erler said that there must be improvement in the Chechen population's catastrophic economic situation, which he regards as a breeding ground for terrorists.
As for his idea of adopting a stability pact for the Caucasus, Erler noted in his interview with netzeitung.de only that it should be modeled after the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, which, he said, has successfully provided the Balkans with a perspective for prosperity and stability. This new pact should be led by Russia, but also include the EU and Russia's neighbors such as Georgia, as well as international financial institutions.
Several other German politicians, including Winfried Nachtwei, who is the Green Party's spokesman for security policy, and Elmar Brok of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, who is the chairman of the European Parliament's foreign policy committee, welcomed Erler's proposal of a Caucasus stability pact. But Brok warned in a 10 September interview with netzeitung.de that Russia's neighbors are unlikely to accept any Russian-led international initiative, and for that reason such a pact would be a "stillborn child." For Brok, the initiative for any such pact should come from Europe, and it should include a role for the United States and also for Turkey as a representative of the Islamic countries.
Asked about Brok's concerns about the negative Russian role in the Caucasus, Erler told RFE/RL on 13 September that this may have been true before the Beslan hostage tragedy. But Erler argued that in the aftermath of Beslan, Russia will have to reconsider its position that Chechen terrorism is an offshoot of international terrorism, and at the same time an internal problem of Russia.
Therefore, Erler reasoned, there is a good chance that Beslan may herald the beginning of a new Russian approach to the Chechen problem. At the time of Erler's interview with RFE/RL, few details were available of the Federal Commission on the North Caucasus, which the Russian government has recently created. This new body, which is to be headed by new presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, will deal with what Putin called the "miserable socioeconomic situation" in the region, which Putin said constitutes a breeding ground for "ideologues for international terrorism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2004 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2004). Erler said it is a positive sign that Putin chose Kozak for that position, and indicates that he takes the situation very seriously.
Asked how realistic it is to expect Russia and Georgia to cooperate within the framework of any stability pact -- given that Russian officials recently hinted at Georgia's complicity in the Beslan tragedy -- Erler said that the recent Russian threat to attack terrorist camps "outside Russia" is a clear allusion to the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Erler also noted that the international community should seek to convince Russia that it is better to cooperate with the new Georgian leadership rather than attack it.
As for which northern Caucasian republics should be included in the stability pact, Erler responded that this remains to be seen. With the creation of the Federal Commission on the North Caucasus, Putin has provided part of the answer to that question. For Erler, it is important that international organizations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development participate in the pact. But he also acknowledged that given Russia's antipathy to organizations such as the OSCE, they should not be included in the pact from the very beginning.
It remains to be seen whether proposals such as Erler's will fall on fertile ground in the relevant international institutions or, especially, in Russia. While international awareness of the magnitude of Russia's problems in the Caucasus has risen in the aftermath of the Beslan hostage drama, some international reactions -- including those of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw -- have cast doubt on whether Putin's proposed new approach can resolve those problems. Therefore, now might be the right moment for new constructive proposals.