|Sunday, 19 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 39, 98-02-26
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 39, 26 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 UN HOSTAGES FREED IN GEORGIAThe gunmen who abducted four UNOMIG observers in western Georgia on 19 February released their remaining hostages unharmed on 25 February. That move followed talks in Tbilisi between members of the current Georgian leadership, including President Eduard Shevardnadze, and Nemo Burchuladze, who was deputy parliamentary speaker under former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The Georgian authorities, which have demanded Burchuladze's extradition from Moscow on corruption charges, granted him immunity for the duration of the talks. Most of the estimated 20 hostage-takers surrendered to Georgian security forces several hours after their leader, Gocha Esebua, escaped with at least two accomplices. Esebua is believed to have crossed the internal border into Abkhazia. LF
 GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA REACH AGREEMENT ON ECONOMIC ISSUESMeeting in Sukhumi on 23-24 February, Georgian Minister of State Niko Lekishvili and Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Bagapsh reached agreement on restoring the high-voltage power line between Georgia's Inguri Hydro- electric power station and the Russian Federation and on building a gas pipeline to transport Russian gas to Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The World Bank is to provide $50 million for repairs to the Inguri station; and the power it generates will be shared between Georgia and Abkhazia at a ratio of 40:60. The agreements must still be endorsed by Russia, Bagapsh told journalists on 24 February. Talks on restoring rail links were inconclusive and will be resumed only after the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons. Lekishvili also met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba. LF
 AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER ON STATE OF ARMYIn an interview with Turan on 24 February, Lieutenant-General Safar Abiev conceded that serious problems exist within the Azerbaijani armed forces, including the theft of state property by officers. But he denied charges that army personnel are "starving." Abiev noted that the military is capable of guarding the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline if President Aliev requests it to do so. Abiev added that Azerbaijan has anti-missile systems capable of neutralizing the "out-of-date, low-precision" Scud missiles that he claimed Russia has supplied to Armenia. He said that Russia has also supplied the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh with Krug and Osa air-defense systems, but he expressed doubts that they constitute part of the unified CIS air-defense system. LF
 IRAN DENIES SPYING ON KAZAKHSTANA spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Almaty has denied that three Iranian nationals taken into custody by Kazakhstan's security service the previous day were spying on that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1998), Russia's NTV and AFP reported. "We absolutely deny that there are any Iranian secret agents in Kazakhstan," the spokesman said. The Iranian Embassy also informed the Kazakh Foreign Ministry that the three Iranian nationals have no links to the Iranian secret services. But the Kazakh National Security Committee said they "represent a threat to the country's security." Kazakh authorities claim one of the Iranians is a special agent from the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security and the other two are bodyguards. BP
 RETURN OF TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER DELAYED AGAINAli Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition, told RFE/RL correspondents that his planned return to Tajikistan on 25 February was held up owing to conditions at Dushanbe airport. Turajonzoda and an 18-member delegation from the UTO, including its leader Said Abdullo Nuri, were told at Tehran airport that the Iranian 727 Boeing they were about to board was too large to land at Dushanbe airport. This was disputed by Nuri. Later, Turajonzoda was told that the runway at Dushanbe airport had sustained damage in recent earthquakes. RFE/RL correspondents in the Tajik capital say large planes, including Russian military cargo aircraft, have been landing at the airport. Nuri has appealed to UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem, who likewise rejected the reasons for the flight's delay. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 RUGOVA NOMINATED FOR KOSOVO PRESIDENCYThe Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the leading Kosovar political organization, nominated shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova for re- election at the LDK's convention in Pristina on 25 February. Rugova defended his non-violent tactics and his reliance on foreign support. His critics charged that he has not been sufficiently tough. BETA reported that Rugova emerged from the convention with his position strengthened. Parliamentary and presidential elections are slated for 22 March. Meanwhile in Tirana, state television reported that the Yugoslav authorities refused permission to Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano and a delegation from his Socialist Party to travel to Pristina for the convention. PM
 CONTACT GROUP CONCERNED ABOUT TUDJMAN, KOSOVORepresentatives of the six Contact Group countries issued a statement in Moscow on 25 February criticizing a recent speech by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman allegedly questioning the territorial integrity of Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 1998). The diplomats also expressed concern about the situation in Kosovo, which, they said, requires a dialogue between Serbia and the Kosovars. The statement condemned both repression by the Serbian police and violence by the Kosovo Liberation Army. But it praised the new Bosnian Serb leadership of President Biljana Plavsic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, saying the Republika Srpska is on its way to "becoming a model of pluralist democracy and democratic standards." PM
 WESTENDORP GIVES TUDJMAN ULTIMATUMA spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 25 February that Westendorp has given Tudjman one week to sack the ultranationalist mayor of the Herzegovinian town of Stolac or face the loss of his own political credibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 1998). The spokesman said this is Tudjman's "last chance" to prove that he supports the Dayton agreement. PM
 TUDJMAN'S PARTY DEFENDS HIMThe Croatian president's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) sharply rejected "improper statements by foreign diplomats and opposition leaders" in relation to Tudjman's speech. The statement issued on 25 February in Zagreb added that Tudjman had simply stated historical facts about Bosnia "that cannot be denied." The HDZ also charged that Tudjman's critics are ignorant of Croatian affairs. PM
 OSCE CRITICIZES CROATIA FOR SLAVONIAN EXODUSRepresentatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in Zagreb on 25 February that the Croatian authorities must take action to stem the departure of at least 20-30 Serbs daily from eastern Slavonia. An OSCE spokesman said that the "situation for the great majority of people in the region is very bad and often desperate" following a series of incidents in which Croatian nationalists or returning refugees sought to intimidate Serbs. Croatian media suggested that the Serbs are leaving in response to rumors that Norway has recently liberalized its asylum rules. UN refugee officials said that Norwegian officials have decided for now not to grant asylum to any of the 800 Slavonian Serbs who have applied for it. PM
 SLOVENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER QUITSDefense Minister Tit Turnsek handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek on 25 February. The move follows a scandal that arose when Croatian authorities last month confiscated a Slovenian van filled with $1 million worth of sophisticated spying equipment near Varazdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 1998). The Croats released the Slovenian intelligence agents but kept their code books and the van, which is now deployed on the Serbian border, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 26 February. The two agents were suspended following media reports that one of them sold the van to Croatian authorities. PM
 MONTENEGRO TO LAUNCH NEWS AGENCYInformation Secretary Bozidar Jaredic said in Podgorica on 25 February that the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug serves only the interests of President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and not those of Yugoslavia or Montenegro. Jaredic said Montenegro will soon set up its own state news agency, possibly in conjunction with the existing independent Montena-faks news service, "Nasa Borba" reported. PM
 PRISON MUTINY IN TIRANAHundreds of inmates at a Tirana prison started a revolt and took three guards hostage on 25 February, "Koha Jone" reported. The prisoners surrendered as police were about to storm the jail. Earlier that day, Tirana police were put on high alert after receiving telephone threats of possible attacks on police stations by armed civilians. Meanwhile in Shkoder, an unnamed prosecutor investigating the recent unrest told "Koha Jone" that "some of those arrested [after police retook control over the city on 23 February] were on a list of people who had received arms from the Democratic Party" during the unrest early last year. He added that others under arrest include well-known wanted criminals. FS
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT ENDORSES 'SHOOT TO KILL' ORDERThe parliament on 25 February passed legislation allowing police to "shoot to kill" armed attackers. That legislation is part of a code of police conduct that has been in preparation for three months and provides a legal basis for "shoot to kill" orders given to police in December. The law was rushed through the parliament in response to the unrest in Shkoder on 22-23 February. The code also stipulates that policemen must act impartially and remain politically neutral. Also on 25 February, police in Tirana detained about 80 supporters of the Democratic Party for several hours "for disturbing public order." The detainees had attended a rally that attracted some 2,500 people and at which former President Sali Berisha called for "mass protests" throughout the country and for new elections. FS
 ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS HAJDARI'S IMMUNITYLawmakers on 25 February voted by 93 to six to lift the immunity of Democratic Party deputy Azem Hajdari, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. Hajdari was involved in armed clashes with police at a roadblock in northern Albania earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). Also on 25 February, 30 investors in the VEFA pyramid company launched a hunger strike in the Tirana VEFA building. They are demanding that state- appointed auditors be withdrawn and that the government allow VEFA owner Vehbi Alimucaj to continue his operations in order to repay his debts, "Koha Jone" reported. FS
 LACK OF CLARITY OVER ROMANIAN MINISTER'S RESIGNATION...Privatization Minister Valentin Ionescu on 25 February said he has "irrevocably" resigned because the decision-making process in the economic sector has been paralyzed by the ongoing government crisis. Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea later revealed that Ionescu decided to quit because of conflicts with State Property Fund chief Sorin Dimitriu. Following a meeting between Ionescu, Dimitriu, and the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) leadership, PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu said Ionescu had agreed not to resign pending "an examination of his views." But Ionescu told an RFE/RL correspondent after the meeting that he has "no intention whatsoever" to withdraw his resignation. MS
 ...AND OVER DEMOCRATS' RELATIONS WITH GOVERNMENTDemocratic Party leader Petre Roman told journalists after his 25 February meeting with chief IMF negotiator Poul Thompsen that the Democrats are not prepared to support an austerity budget for 1998 unless it is submitted to the parliament by "another government," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Earlier that day, leaders of the Democrats and the Social Democratic Party of Romania, which are partners within the Social Democratic Union (USD), agreed that the budget must be presented to the parliament by "another team" and said they will strive to enlarge the USD to include the opposition Alliance for Romania. But the PNTCD leadership later decided to "fully back" Ciorbea as prime minister. Diaconescu said he has the Democrats' promise to back the budget but added he will also contact "other parties" to try to enlist their support. MS
 ROMANIAN LABOR UNREST SPREADSMore than 100,000 members of two teachers unions staged a two-hour "warning strike" on 25 February to demand that their wages be doubled, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. They said a general strike will be launched on 15 March if the demands are not met by then. Paramedics have been on general strike for the past 15 days. Meanwhile, a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released on 25 February says GDP in Romania dropped 6.5 percentage points in 1997. It also said that unemployment, which currently stands at 7 percent, is expected to rise. MS
 TRANSDNIESTER WAIVES 'ENTRY TAX' FOR MOLDOVAN CITIZENSTransdniester Deputy Interior Minister Leonid Manakov told journalists on 25 February that Moldovan citizens, as well as citizens of other CIS member states, will be exempt from a recently imposed $10 "entry tax." The tax will remain in force for citizens of other countries. It is unclear whether the requirement that foreign nationals register with the police within three hours of crossing the border will continue to apply to Moldovan citizens who do not reside in the breakaway region or to CIS nationals, BASA-press reported on 25 February. MS
 BULGARIA URGES REGIONAL INITIATIVE ON KOSOVOForeign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 25 February said Bulgaria is "seriously worried about the worsening of the situation in Kosovo" and about the danger that the conflict there "could spread to other parts of southeast Europe," Reuters reported. Vlaikov said Bulgaria will appeal to Greece, Turkey, and Romania to make a joint declaration on the conflict. A draft declaration proposed by Sofia calls for "dialogue" between Serbia and ethnic Albanians and urges all sides to avoid violence. It also says that a solution "must be sought within the framework of respecting existing borders." Vlaikov denied that Greece has rebuked Sofia's initiative, saying that Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos offered "his support in principle." Athens the previous day said any international initiative on the Kosovo conflict should involve the EU. MS
[C] END NOTE
 FLIRTING WITH MADNESSby Liz Fuller
When Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan resigned on 3 February, he claimed that his departure from office constituted a victory for the so- called "party of war." Western reaction to his resignation largely seems to have given credence to that claim. Apocalyptic headlines--such as "Armenia Flirts With Madness"--testify to widespread apprehension that hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh will inevitably break out again in the near future. Yet Armenia's interim leadership remains whole-heartedly committed to resuming negotiations on finding a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group. That commitment, however, does not preclude the possibility of another war erupting in the near future.
Meeting with an RFE/RL delegation in Yerevan just four days after Ter- Petrossyan's resignation, Prime Minister and acting President Robert Kocharyan explained his objections to the "phased" draft peace plan proposed last year by the three Minsk Group co-chairmen and accepted by Ter- Petrossyan as a basis for further peace talks. Kocharyan pointed out that the international community had regarded Ter-Petrossyan's policy of what Kocharyan called "concessions and exaggerated compromise" as the most promising approach to resolving the conflict.
In fact, Kocharyan reasoned, Ter-Petrossyan's overt pragmatism alienated the Karabakh Armenian leadership, which, under the preliminary agreements reached by the Minsk Group, does not have the right to participate in negotiations on its future status and which felt abandoned by its sole ally. (In all fairness, it should be noted that Armenia has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to persuade the Minsk Group to upgrade Karabakh's status to a full party to the peace talks.) Moreover, Ter-Petrossyan's conciliatory stance encouraged Azerbaijan in its obdurate rejection of any direct talks with Stepanakert. It also buttressed Baku's assumption that it would be easier to extract substantive concessions in bilateral talks with Yerevan and that the international community would, in turn, exert pressure on the Armenian leadership to persuade Stepanakert to agree to the "phased" approach.
Kocharyan said he hopes for the resumption of negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. But he added that it would also be "correct" for the Minsk Group co-chairmen to express their support for parallel talks between the central Azerbaijani government and the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
Acting Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, for his part, told "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 11 February that he hoped the Minsk Group co-chairmen would find a way at their 17 February meeting in Paris to amend the existing draft peace proposal so that it would be acceptable to both Yerevan and Stepanakert, although he conceded that it would not be easy for them to do so. (The official statement issued after the Paris meeting merely called for the resumption of negotiations and noted that the co- chairmen will visit Armenia and Azerbaijan after the 16 March Armenian presidential elections.)
But even if the Minsk Group succeeds in drafting a revised peace plan that addresses the security concerns of the Karabakh Armenian leadership, the resumption of negotiations is largely contingent on domestic political developments. To date, 13 candidates have announced their intention of contending the Armenian presidential elections, although it is unlikely that each will succeed in collecting the 25,000 signatures necessary for registration. Moreover, some of those who do register may ultimately withdraw their candidacy in order to endorse a rival candidate. But given that Karabakh currently dominates Armenian domestic politics in general and the presidential election campaign in particular, there is a danger that candidates may vie with one another in adopting an increasingly militant stance on the Karabakh issue and may commit themselves to policies from which it would be difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, to retreat.
Moreover, even if Armenia's next president initially proves to be both moderate and flexible in his approach to the negotiating process, he may be subject to pressure from more hard-line element such as Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan. In a series of interviews last fall, Babayan hinted that he considered the resumption of hostilities virtually inevitable in the light of Baku's refusal to compromise.
And Azerbaijan, too, is gearing up for presidential elections scheduled for October. Azerbaijan's political opposition has consistently taken a tougher position than the country's leadership on the Karabakh issue; and last month, a group of pro-government parties broke ranks, registering its displeasure with official policy and castigating the Minsk Group for its alleged passivity in not taking "concrete steps to liberate occupied Azerbaijani territories." As in Armenia, presidential candidates in Azerbaijan could conceivably yield to the temptation to exploit the Karabakh issue in order to win votes and, having sown the wind, reap the whirlwind. As Alcuin, abbot of Tours, wrote to his patron, the future Emperor Charlemagne, some 12 centuries ago: "The tumultuousness of the crowd is always close to madness."
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty