|Sunday, 23 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 2, No. 40, 98-02-27
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 2, No. 40, 27 February 1998
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 GEORGIA ASSESSES UNOMIG ABDUCTIONA Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman on 26 February said that Gocha Esebua, leader of the group of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia supporters that abducted four UN observers in western Georgia last week, is one of the prime suspects in the failed 9 February attempt to kill President Eduard Shevardnadze. In response to one of the abductors' demands, Shevardnadze has proposed the creation of a commission of historians, lawyers, and scholars to evaluate recent political developments in Georgia. Shevardnadze has also proposed drafting new principles to serve as the basis for national reconciliation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 February. Liviu Bota, the UN secretary-general's special envoy to Georgia, has expressed concern that the unarmed UN observer force in western Georgia could be the target of further attacks or hostage-takings, Reuters reported. LF
 ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATESVazgen Sarkisyan met with seven of the 12 Armenian presidential candidates at the Central Electoral Commission on 26 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sarkisyan subsequently said that an agreement was reached on the participation of military personnel in the 16 March presidential election. No details of that agreement were released. International observers who monitored the 1995 and 1996 polls expressed suspicions that, on those occasions, servicemen may have voted several times at different polling stations. In an interview with Noyan Tapan earlier this month, Sarkisyan said that elections should be "absolutely fair." But on 25 February, Liberal Democratic Party chairman and presidential candidate Vigen Khachatryan told "Aravot" that Sarkisyan has been summoning various local governors and members of electoral commissions to his office "to instruct them how to act" during the poll. LF
 ARMENIA, GEORGIA TO BROADEN COOPERATION WITH CHINAMeeting on 25 February with Aram Vardanian, chairman of the Union of Businessmen and Industrialists of Armenia, Chinese Ambassador to Yerevan Yan Kejun discussed expanding cooperation and possible joint ventures in the electrical engineering, food-processing, and textile sectors, Noyan Tapan reported. The same day, Georgian Minister of Transport Merab Adeishvili met with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Bangguo in Beijing to discuss broadening cooperation in the transportation sector. Such cooperation would presumably take place within the framework of the TRACECA project to develop rail, road, ferry links from China via Central Asia and the Caucasus to Europe. LF
 UZBEK DELEGATION VISITS BAKUVisiting Uzbek First Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Djurabekov and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Abbas Abbasov, also discussed the benefits of the TRACECA during their talks in Baku on 25 February. That meeting took place within the framework of the first session of the Azerbaijani-Uzbek intergovernmental cooperation commission, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Djurabekov said that Uzbekistan last year saved $40 per ton by transporting goods from Tashkent via Turkmenbashi, Baku, Poti, and Ilichevsk. He added that Uzbekistan plans to double the amount of goods shipped by this route this year from the 1997 volume of 200,000 tons. The two sides signed three inter-governmental economic agreements on streamlining currency and export operations and combatting financial and economic crime. LF
 BISHKEK WORRIED ABOUT CITIZENS ARRESTED IN UZBEKISTANThe Kyrgyz parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security, and Human Rights convened a joint session on 26 February to discuss what to do about two of its citizens currently held by Uzbek law enforcement authorities, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. The Kyrgyz government has requested details about the reasons for the arrests but so far has received no reply from the Uzbek authorities. Rustam Usmanov was arrested in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on 13 February, while Zakirjan Normatov was taken into custody by Uzbek police in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in late January. Uzbek police sources told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Usmanov is wanted on charges made four years ago, when he was an Uzbek citizen. Normatov is wanted in connection with the December disturbances in Namangan. BP
 TAJIK PRESIDENT SAYS GOVERNMENT WILL REMAIN SECULARImomali Rakhmonov has responded to an article by Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition, arguing that the term "secular government" should be struck from the Tajik Constitution and a referendum held on the issue. The article appeared in the Iranian newspaper "Jumhuri-e-Eslami" on 14 February. Rakhmonov said at a meeting with political activists in Khujand on 25 February there will be no revision of the relevant article of the constitution, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Mehmadsharif Himmatzade of the Islamic Renaissance Party said his party will respect the law and leave it to the people to decide which form of government they prefer. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 BOSNIA SAYS SERBIA MAY HOLD SREBRENICA SURVIVORSMuhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, wrote to the Security Council on 26 February that 50 survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre may be secretly held in a prison in Sremska Mitrovica. He asked the council to investigate reports by two independent witnesses that they saw people from Srebrenica in the prison along with a U.S. and a Pakistani citizen. Sacirbey added that "apparently none of those Srebrenica prisoners is registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross. They are held in isolation from other prisoners, and it is not even clear to what extent the central authorities in Belgrade may be aware of the circumstances." Some 7,000 former inhabitants of Srebrenica, mainly adult males, remain unaccounted for and are presumed to have been massacred by General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb troops. PM
 INDICTED SERB PLEADS NOT GUILTYSimo Zaric, one of six Bosnian Serbs from Bosanski Samac wanted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and who turned himself in on 24 February, pleaded not guilty before the court on 26 February. Zaric said that hopes it will be "easy for the tribunal to see that Simo Zaric is honest and honorable and for the judges to decide that I am innocent." PM
 COMMERCIAL RAIL TRAFFIC RETURNS TO BOSNIAA 30-wagon freight train made the journey from Muslim-held Tuzla across Serb- and Croat-held areas to reach the Croatian Adriatic port of Ploce, Bosnia's natural outlet to the sea, on 26 February. The transportation ministries of the two entities agreed earlier this month to resume rail traffic as soon as possible even before they reach an agreement on setting up a new railway company. PM
 MORE CROATIAN RESPONSE TO U.S. CRITICISMDrago Krpina, a spokesman for President Franjo Tudjman's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), repeated his party's opposition to U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard's criticism of a recent speech by Tudjman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 1998). Speaking in Zagreb on 26 February, Krpina said that "the tone and manner in which Mr. Gelbard spoke about a president of a sovereign nation is out of proportion and unacceptable.... A civil servant--albeit of the United States-- has no right in slapping the wrists of a president of a sovereign nation in that manner." Krpina added that it was "outrageous" that Gelbard spoke without first having read a transcript of Tudjman's remarks. PM
 CROATIAN MEDIA GROUP WANTS EDITORS OUTSpokesmen for Forum 21, which includes prominent journalists from the state- run and independent media, said in Zagreb on 26 February that some top editors from state television (HRT) who recently joined the governing body of the HDZ should resign their media posts. Among those who took the political appointments is HRT editor-in- chief Hloverka Novak-Srzic. The independent weekly "Globus" added that "by [the appointments], the ruling party shows what it thinks about demands made by European institutions to pull HRT from the party claws and turn it into a proper public service broadcaster." The government holds a near monopoly on the electronic media, especially television. HRT is widely regarded as an HDZ mouthpiece. PM
 YUGOSLAV ARMY DENIES KOSOVO BUILDUPMajor-General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the commander of the Pristina region, rejected charges by opposition politicians that the army has launched a military buildup in Kosovo, BETA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 February 1998). He said in Pristina on 26 February that he wants Kosovo to remain "an oasis of peace and not of conflict." He noted nonetheless that the security situation has worsened over the past year in the Glogovac- Srbica-Klina area on account of the activities of "Albanian separatists [and] terrorists." Pavkovic also criticized unnamed foreigners for allegedly encouraging Kosovo's secession from Serbia. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic denied opposition reports of a mobilization on account of the situation in Kosovo, "Danas" wrote. Finally, an army spokesman described the border with Albania as Yugoslavia's "most problematic" frontier from a security standpoint. PM
 POLICE MAKE MORE ARRESTS IN HAJDARI AFFAIRPolice arrested three men in Kukes on 26 February after they attempted to break through a police roadblock. Police found four machine guns, 35 grenades, and 2,000 rounds of ammunition in their car, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. One of the three is an ethnic Albanian from Montenegro, while another comes from Tropoja and is the brother of a man arrested after a recent armed clash between police and supporters of the controversial Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 1998). A police spokesman said the three are also suspected of having been involved in the unrest in Shkoder. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry named Mithat Havari, who was sacked as Shkoder's police chief on 23 February, as national director of prisons. FS
 NANO SAYS DEMOCRATS PROMOTE CRIMEAlbanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Tirana on 26 February that he "never had doubts that the Democratic Party serves as a breeding ground for crime, smuggling, corruption, and other dubious practices," "Koha Jone" reported. He also charged that the Democrats were behind last weekend's unrest in Shkoder and the recent destruction of water pipes and other infrastructure (possibly an allusion to the blast that crippled the water supply system in Kukes on 25 February). Meanwhile, several thousand Democratic Party supporters held rallies in six central Albanian cities on 26 February, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported. Speakers accused the government of having committed unspecified "political crimes" and of being responsible for widespread poverty. FS
 ROMANIAN PREMIER RESPONDS TO DEMOCRATIC PARTYVictor Ciorbea, in an open letter addressed to former Democratic Party cabinet ministers, said on 26 February that those ministers "initiated the game, established its rules, played by yourselves, and lost more than you thought you would win." Ciorbea said he had decided to break his self- imposed silence and to respond to a letter addressed to him by the former ministers on 2 February because he realizes that nothing will make them stop the attacks whose target he has become. He said that in their campaign against him, they display "an energy that is surprising in view of your performance in the cabinet," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES 1998 PRIVATIZATION PROGRAMThe government on 27 February approved a program providing for the privatization of 2,745 enterprises this year, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Privatization Minister Valentin Ionescu withdrew his resignation submitted one day earlier, saying he is satisfied with the program. Also on 26 February, the Senate voted 86 to 57 to reject an opposition motion criticizing the government for the deterioration of the health system. Meanwhile, the leader of the Sanitas trade union announced on 26 February that the paramedics' general strike, which began some two weeks ago, has been "suspended" because "respect for patients must prevail." MS
 GAZPROM TAKES 50 PERCENT SHARE OF MOLDOVAN GAS COMPANYThe parliament on 26 February approved the privatization of the Moldovagas company. Russia's Gazprom is to be the largest shareholder, owning 50 percent of the company's assets, whose total value is $285 million. Moldova owes Gazprom $650 million, and the transfer of half of the new company's shares to Gazprom is to cover part of that debt in line with an agreement reached in Moscow in March 1997 by Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc and Gazprom, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. BASA-press said that of the remaining 50 percent portfolio, the Moldovan government will own 35 percent the separatist authorities in Tiraspol 14 percent, and private entrepreneurs 1 percent. MS
 BULGARIA, RUSSIA TO COMBAT CD PIRACYReturning from a visit to Moscow, where he met his Russian counterpart Anatolii Kulikov, Bulgarian Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev told BTA on 26 February that the two countries will cooperate in the struggle against pirated compact discs and money laundering. He said that Moscow is "swamped in pirated CDs and a large share of them are Bulgarian-made." The two countries will also exchange information on suspected money laundering in the real estate sector. Bonev said that some Bulgarian "so-called businessmen imagine that Russia is a paradise for those who committed crimes in Bulgaria." MS
[C] END NOTE
 BOSNIAN MERRY-GO-ROUNDby Patrick Moore
The past few weeks have witnessed some remarkable developments in Bosnia. New political constellations are taking shape, but it is unclear whether they will last.
The Bosnian Serbs were for many years international pariahs who enjoyed close contacts only with Serbia, Greece, and Russia. But during the time between last summer, when Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic broke with Radovan Karadzic's supporters in Pale, and last month, when reformer Milorad Dodik became prime minister, the Bosnian Serbs have become the darlings of the international community. Scarcely a day seems to go by without Dodik receiving a pledge of money or other aid from a foreign diplomat or politician.
The reason for the foreigners' generosity is that Plavsic and Dodik have said they are committed to implementing the Dayton agreement. To show their sincerity, the two have launched some basic reforms aimed at curbing the hard- liners' hold on the economy, police, and army. Plavsic and Dodik have also made it clear to foreign capitals that the moderate Bosnian Serb leadership can survive only if some degree of prosperity and development comes to the Republika Srpska, where the per capita income is approximately $35 per month and the unemployment rate 70 percent.
Their point has been well taken. Earlier this month, Plavsic visited France and received all honors due to a head of state. When Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency, subsequently filed a formal protest with Paris and accused the French of favoring the Serbs, hardly any European or North American political commentator outside Izetbegovic's own Party for Democratic Action sympathized with him. Instead, Izetbegovic was portrayed in the foreign press as a bitter old man who is angry that he and his followers are no longer the West's sole friends in Bosnia.
Dodik, for his part, paid his first foreign visit not to Moscow or Athens, but to Bonn. Given Germany's long-standing economic, political, and social importance for all parts of the former Yugoslavia (it is no accident that the new Bosnian joint currency is called the "convertible mark"), this may not seem surprising. But if one recalls the vehemence of Serbian propaganda against Germany since at least the 1991 breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Dodik's decision to go to Bonn is both remarkable and ironic.
That irony appeared even more pronounced soon after Dodik left Bonn. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel visited Banja Luka and promised substantial aid to his hosts. Plavsic praised him, saying: "it is good to have a friend in the European Union who will defend our interests with objectivity, and I think we have found a good friend." Such sentiments would have been unthinkable from any Serbian leader anywhere in the former Yugoslavia just a few months ago.
Last week, Dodik was in Washington, where Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described him as a "breath of fresh air." Shortly thereafter, Robert Gelbard, the U.S. special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, went to Belgrade, where he praised Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for having shown "good will" and "a significant positive influence" by backing Plavsic and Dodik. Gelbard did not, however, lift the "outer sanctions" that still block Belgrade's full membership in the international community; such a step will be taken only when Yugoslavia becomes more democratic and finds a solution to the Kosovo question. But Gelbard did bring some presents for Milosevic, including landing rights for JAT airlines in the U.S. as well as the right to open a consulate in New York.
Gelbard had quite a different message, however, for Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Ever since Tudjman signed a U.S.-brokered peace with the Muslims in early 1994, he has been fond of referring to his "strategic partnership" with Washington. But early this week, Gelbard said in Belgrade that a recent speech by Tudjman included territorial claims on Bosnia, which Gelbard called "outrageous, dangerous, and ridiculous." The U.S. official also accused Tudjman of "violating the Dayton agreement."
Shortly after, Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, urged Tudjman to fire the hard-line Croatian mayor of Stolac, who is at least partly responsible for preventing local Muslim refugees from returning home. Westendorp's spokesman said that his boss has given Tudjman one week to get rid of the mayor or face a loss of his political credibility.
On 24 February, Izetbegovic's followers in the Bosnian government finally gave in to long-standing international pressure and sent to the parliament a law on property rights that will enable Croatian and Serbian refugees to return to their flats in Sarajevo. The next day, however, Tudjman's party, the Croatian Democratic Community, declared that Zagreb will not be bullied by the "improper statements of foreign diplomats and opposition leaders." The party added that Tudjman had simply stated historical facts about Bosnia "that cannot be denied."
Meanwhile, foreign capitals will be watching to see what Dodik does with his aid money and whether he succeeds in breaking the power base of Radovan Karadzic's backers.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty