|Friday, 28 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 31, 98-02-16
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 31, 16 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 SUSPECTS DETAINED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION BIDGeorgian security officials on 15 February announced the arrest of five suspects in connection with the recent assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze. Fifteen Georgians and three Chechens were said to have participated in that attack, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tbilisi the next day. Speaking on state television on 15 February, Shevardnadze said those arrested were supporters of ousted late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and were recruited and financed by unnamed circles outside Georgia. Shevardnadze also suggested that there is a connection between last week's attack and the failed bid to kill him in August 1995. Shevardnadze again demanded that former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is suspected of participating in the 1995 attack, be extradited from Moscow. Several members of the banned paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni are currently on trial for their alleged role in that attack (see also "End Note" below). LF
 ABKHAZ PRESIDENT SAYS GEORGIA PLANNING TERRORIST ACTSAddressing a government session on 13 February, Vladislav Ardzinba accused the Georgian leadership of planning terrorist attacks against the estimated 10,000 ethnic Georgians who have returned to their homes in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Ardzinba charged that this action is intended to mobilize Georgian public opinion to press for the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The peacekeepers' mandate expired on 31 January. Ardzinba said the so-called White Legion Georgian guerrilla organization, which he claimed is financed by the Georgian government, is distributing leaflets in Gali warning that Abkhaz military formations are planning to attack Georgians living there. LF
 DASHNAKS AFFIRM SUPPORT FOR KOCHARYANVahan Hovanissian, one of the leaders of the recently reinstated Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), has expressed his party's conditional support for Prime Minister and Acting President Robert Kocharyan's presidential candidacy, Interfax reported on 13 February. Hovanissian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that although he personally respects National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian, his party believes Kocharyan can achieve greater progress in resolving the Karabakh conflict and in implementing democratization. But Hovanissian added that his party may withdraw its support for Kocharyan if the "power ministries" attempt to influence the elections in the latter's favor, according to Interfax. The Social-Democratic Party, the Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union, and the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen of Armenia (which until now supported former President Levon Ter-Petrossyan) have also pledged their backing for Kocharyan's candidacy, ArmenPress and Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 FORMER ARMENIAN COMMUNIST PARTY TO RUN FOR PRESIDENTKaren Demirchyan, who was first secretary of the Armenian Communist Party from 1974-1988, announced on 13 February that he intends to contend the presidency. For the past 10 years, the 66-year-old Demirchyan has headed the Armelektromash research and production association, one of the largest of its kind in Armenia. To date, nine candidates have announced their intention to contend the poll. "Respublika Armeniya" on 14 February predicted that none of the three leading contenders--Kocharyan, Manukian, and Demirchyan--will receive the required absolute majority in the first round and that a runoff is therefore virtually inevitable. LF
 AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER DISMISSEDPresident Heidar Aliev told journalists in Istanbul on 14 February that he has fired Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov because of the latter's "criminal actions." A government investigation, whose finding were made public on 12 February, established that Hasanov diverted a Turkish loan intended to finance construction of an official Foreign Ministry hotel and used the money to turn the building into a luxury hotel and casino. Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namig Abbasov denied, however, that criminal proceedings have been brought against Hasanov, AFP reported. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 YUGOSLAVIA UNDER PRESSURE OVER WAR CRIMINALSLouise Arbour, the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Brussels that the voluntary surrender of two Bosnian Serbs to the court on 14 February increases the pressure on Belgrade to cooperate with the tribunal, "Nasa Borba" reported two days later. She warned that Yugoslavia will become increasingly isolated the longer it refuses to send indicted war criminals to The Hague. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, for his part, said the international community will insist that Belgrade honor the commitments it made in the Dayton agreement, including a pledge to cooperate with the court. PM
 THIRD BOSNIAN SERB TO TURN HIMSELF IN?The Belgrade daily "Dnevni telegraf" wrote on 15 February that Simo Zaric, one of six Bosnian Serbs from Bosanski Samac who is wanted by the Hague- based war crimes tribunal, will turn himself in to the court's representatives in the near future. The newspaper quoted him as saying that he intends to surrender to the court as soon has he has "cleared up some legal matters." Miroslav Tadic and Milan Simic, who are also among the six men charged with setting up concentration camps and carrying out "ethnic cleansing" in 1991, gave themselves up on 14 February. They told reporters in The Hague the next day that they are innocent. Tadic and Simic are the first Bosnian Serbs to voluntarily surrender to the tribunal. PM
 DODIK WANTS GOOD TIES TO ZAGREBRepublika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Zagreb on 14 February that the Bosnian Serbs are "particularly interested in establishing economic cooperation with Croatia." Both he and Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa agreed to set up a commission on missing persons, which will hold its first meeting within two months. The two sides will also discuss setting up border crossing points and promoting cooperation between the Croatian oil company INA and the refinery at Bosanski Brod, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Dodik said he supports Croatia's wish to open a consulate in Banja Luka, and his hosts said they will consider abolishing visa requirements for Bosnian Serbs who are holders of the new joint Bosnian passport. PM
 KOSOVAR LEADER CALLS BELGRADE "ARROGANT"Mahmut Bakalli, a leading communist-era Kosovar political leader, told RFE/RL from Belgrade on 14 February that the Yugoslav government is "arrogant and masochistic." He was referring to the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry's statement the previous day that German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, are not welcome to make a previously planned visit. Bakalli added that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is behaving like a "crude Balkan Saddam Hussein" in his stubborn refusal to modify Serbia's policies in Kosovo. Kinkel and Vedrine launched a diplomatic initiative in November 1997 to promote autonomy for Kosovo within Yugoslavia. PM
 RUGOVA SAYS SERBIA DESTABILIZING KOSOVOShadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Pristina on 13 February that the Serbian authorities are increasingly using force in Kosovo. He stated that Belgrade's goals are to intimidate the ethnic Albanians and destabilize the province in the run-up to the shadow-state's parliamentary and presidential elections slated for March. Rugova added that the elections could provide an impetus for a Serbian-Albanian dialogue, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Kosovar capital. PM
 KOSOVO STUDENTS CALL PROTESTEthnic Albanian student representatives on 13 February called for renewed mass protests on 13 March to demand control over school and university buildings. In December, Serbian riot police put down peaceful protests aimed at restoring Albanian- language education (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1997). In other news, unidentified gunmen killed an ethnic Albanian employee of the Yugoslav Post in Glogovac on 13 February. Three days later, the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" wrote that the body of an ethnic Albanian employee of the Serbian electric company has been found in the Glogovac area. In the past, the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army, which is strong in Glogovac, has killed several ethnic Albanians whom it regards as Serbian collaborators. PM
 ALBANIAN LEGISLATOR MAY FACE CHARGESInterior Minister Neritan Ceka on 15 February asked the Prosecutor- General's Office to prepare charges against opposition Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari, who enjoys parliamentary immunity. Hajdari and 15 other people were involved in two armed incidents with police in the Shkoder area the previous day. Police arrested 11 of Hajdari's group and confiscated "a large quantity of arms." Hajdari, who is no stranger to controversy, said in Tirana on 15 February that the police had staged "another attack on me." Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha said that if Hajdari's immunity is lifted, his party will reconsider its recent decision to end its boycott of the parliament. PM
 JOURNALISTS DETAINED AT ALBANIAN BASEPolice briefly detained three journalists, including Fatos Baxhaku, the editor-in-chief of "Gazeta Shqiptare," at a naval base in Vlora on 12 February, a Defense Ministry spokesman said in Tirana three days later. The spokesman said that the three tricked guards at the base into letting them enter the site, which they then filmed. The spokesman added that "the media should respect rules protecting state secrets" and not seek admission to any base without a permit. PM
 ALBANIAN COMMUNIST LEADER TO HAVE HEART SURGERYRamiz Alia, who was president of Albania from 1985 to 1992, underwent tests in Salonika, Greece, on 14 February and is slated to have heart surgery later this week. Alia had a heart attack on 24 January and also suffers from respiratory problems. PM
 ROMANIA EMPLOYS STRONGER LANGUAGE ON IRAQIn a departure from its cautious position on the Iraqi crisis last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1998), the Romanian government released a statement on 14 February saying Bucharest is "ready to participate" in a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq if diplomatic efforts fail to solve the conflict. The statement said the government will seek the approval of the parliament if such participation becomes necessary. In other news, Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu on 13 February ended a two-day visit to Germany, where he met with Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. Kinkel promised continued support for Romania's integration into Euro-Atlantic structure and for German investments, but said there is "some worry" about political stability in Romania. MS
 ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATS SET UP 'SHADOW CABINET'The Democratic Party has set up a 17-member team to "monitor" the performance of Victor Ciorbea's cabinet, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 13 February. Party deputy chairman Traian Basescu will coordinate the group, which, he said, should "not yet" be viewed as a "shadow cabinet" because "we are still a member of the ruling coalition." However, the group intends to work out "parallel" reform programs" and each of its members will be in charge with "monitoring" the performance of a ministry. Former Foreign Minister Adrian Severin is not included in the group, and foreign affairs will be "monitored" by incumbent minister Andrei Plesu. Observers point out that this is a unique situation in which a party both participates in the governing coalition and adopts an opposition-like stance and in which a minister "monitors" his own ministry. MS
 CHISINAU DENIES U.S. COMPANY INVOLVED IN MIG SALEThe Moldovan government on 13 February said it does not owe the U.S. company Virtual Defense Development International any money for facilitating the sale of the MiG-29 aircraft to the U.S. last October. Chiril Sorocean, a counselor to Premier Ion Ciubuc, said the sale took place without any intermediaries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 13 October 1998). In other news, Moldovan and Romanian experts concluded in Chisinau on 13 February a new round of talks on a basic bilateral treaty. Radio Bucharest reported that Romania wants the treaty to mention the "special relationship" between the two states. According to Mediafax, Bucharest wants the document to be called a "fraternity treaty," while Chisinau rejects giving the document any special title. MS
 TIRASPOL AGREES TO RESCHEDULE MOLDOVAN ENERGY DEBTTransdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, meeting with Moldovan Deputy Premier Ion Gutu in Tiraspol on 13 February, agreed to reschedule the $15 million outstanding debt Chisinau owes for energy supplies from the Moldavskaya power plant on condition that Moldova pays its current debt, Infotag and BASA press reported. At the same meeting, Smirnov delivered an ultimatum demanding the abolition of the tax imposed on Transdniestrian goods transiting Moldovan territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 1998). Smirnov and Gutu agreed that President Petru Lucinschi and Smirnov will discuss the issue at their meeting re- scheduled for 17 February. MS
 IMF, EBRD PRAISE BULGARIAN ECONOMIC PERFORMANCEAnn McGuirk, the IMF's chief representative in Bulgaria, has said Bulgaria's economic performance is "very positive" and "better than expected" after the introduction of stabilization measures in 1997, AFP reported on 13 February. Olivier Descamps, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development regional director, said the same day in Sofia that Bulgaria's credibility with foreign investors and bankers is now "the best it has been in the last five years." He added that legislation on foreign investment and privatization must still be passed by the parliament and the privatization of the banking sector accelerated. In other news, Finance Minister Muravei Radev on 15 February sought to persuade some 400 miners at the Grobuso lead and zinc mines, some 300 kilometers southeast of Sofia, to end a four- day hunger strike and leave the pits. The miners are demanding that the government triple their wages. MS
[C] END NOTE
 WHY KILL SHEVARDNADZE?by Liz Fuller
On 15 February, six days after unidentified assailants failed in their attempt to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze announced the detention of several people suspected of participating in the assassination bid. Shevardnadze disclosed later that day that the five suspects included supporters of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and that they had been trained outside Georgia. But the identity and motives of both the assailants and those who contracted them remain unclear. If Gamsakhurdia's supporters were indeed responsible, it is unclear whom they intended to install as president to replace Shevardnadze. Moreover, political figures in Tbilisi, Moscow, and Chechnya seeking to extract dividends from the assassination bid have made statements that divert attention from the discrepancies and contradictions between the various hypotheses.
On 10 February, a Georgian Interior Ministry official announced that one of the hit squad killed by Shevardnadze's bodyguards was apparently a Muslim. But the passport found on him was reported stolen several months ago by its owner, Dagestani Chechen Visamutdin Djangaliev.
Georgian parliamentary chairman Zurab Zhvania described the assailants as "highly efficient specialists," adding that there is no military unit within Georgia capable of operating with such professionalism and that they must therefore have been sent from outside Georgia. But a team of U.S. experts who arrived in Tbilisi on 12 February to assist in the investigation initially concluded that those involved were not high-class professionals.
Shevardnadze initially blamed the attack on "external forces" intent on sowing "controlled chaos" throughout the Caucasus. The following day, he implicated unnamed forces "who cannot forgive Afghanistan, the [fall of the] Berlin Wall, Europe's liberation, oil pipelines, and the Eurasian transport corridor." But Shevardnadze also denied having referred to "a Russian connection" in the assassination bid, affirming that "Georgia needs Russia, just as Russia needs Georgia."
But Zhvania, who over the past year has taken a consistently harder line on relations with Russia than has Shevardnadze, said that members of the hit squad had spoken Russian among themselves. He added that they may have been evacuated from Georgia on a Russian military plane that landed at the Russian military base at Vaziani, 30 kilometers east of Tbilisi, several hours after the attack on Shevardnadze and took off 90 minutes later. Russian journalists, however, pointed out that Vaziani and the site of the assassination attempt are located on opposite banks of the River Kura and that the assailants could not have reached the nearest bridge before it was closed off by Georgian security forces.
Predictably, Russian officials have disclaimed any involvement in the attack and have suggested that it was planned inside Georgia, possibly by economic interest groups targeted by Shevardnadze's ongoing drive to eradicate corruption. But there are forces in Russia with a vested interest in eliminating Shevardnadze, although those forces are less likely to be motivated by revenge for Shevardnadze's actions as Soviet foreign minister than by the desire to keep Georgia within Russia's sphere of influence.
The domestic chaos that would inevitably have followed Shevardnadze's assassination would have jeopardized the export via Georgia of Caspian oil, the TRACECA project to transport goods from Central Asia and the Transcaucasus to Europe without transiting Russian territory, and the planned creation of a Caucasian "Common Market" comprising Chechnya, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. (International financial circles including former European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Jacques Attali are reportedly engaged in fund raising for the last-named undertaking.)
Alternatively, some political circles in Moscow, either acting independently or in tandem with the radical wing of the Abkhaz leadership, may have wished to prevent the international community's further involvement in mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. While neither the UN nor NATO is likely to endorse the "Bosnia option," which foresees a peace-enforcing operation in Abkhazia and for which Shevardnadze has been lobbying in recent weeks, the prospect of an international force deployed close to the borders of the Russian Federation may have been unacceptable to those circles.
By contrast, Chechen government involvement in the assassination bid is implausible. Since last summer, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has sought to expand economic relations with Georgia, which is Chechnya's sole outlet to the Black Sea. Shevardnadze, for his part, has proved amenable to such contacts, while stressing that he considers Chechnya an inseparable part of the Russian Federation. But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov has condemned the Georgian "flirtation" with Chechnya. And Revaz Adamia, chairman of the Georgian parliamentary Commission on Defense Affairs, told RFE/RL that some members of the Russian Federal Security Service may have wanted to eliminate Shevardnadze in order to curtail the Chechen-Georgian rapprochement.
Meanwhile, maverick field commander Salman Raduev's claim that the attack on Shevardnadze was perpetrated by his Caucasian Home organization was probably intended primarily to embarrass Maskhadov and enhance Raduev's own inglorious reputation.
A final question is how the Georgian security service failed to forestall a second attempt on Shevardnadze's life within two-and-a-half years. Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has said he warned his Georgian counterpart in November 1997 that an assassination attempt was in the offing. And an RFE/RL delegation that met with Shevardnadze in Tbilisi earlier this month was struck by the stringent security precautions in effect at the Chancellery.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty