|There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. - Graham Greene|
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 79, Part II, 23 July1997
This is Part II of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Newsline. Part II is a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I, covering Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine are available through RFE/RL's WWW pages: http://www.rferl.org/newsline/search/ Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II *U.S. CONCERNED ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN FORMER COMMUNIST COUNTRIES *BOSNIAN SERB COURT BACKS PLAVSIC *TUDJMAN SACKS LEADING GENERALS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE U.S. CONCERNED ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN FORMER COMMUNIST COUNTRIES. A report on religious freedom in 78 countries issued on 22 July by the U.S. State Department expresses concern about religious freedom in several former communist countries. The U.S. expressed concern about a draft law, approved by both houses of the Russian legislature, that would restrict the activities of some minority religions. President Boris Yeltsin has since vetoed the bill (see Part I). The report expresses concern about harassment of and violence against Baptists and Greek Catholics in Romania as well as about freedom of worship of non-Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria. It also notes that in Armenia, denominations other than the Armenian Apostolic Church face legal restrictions and that an Azerbaijani law forbidding religious proselytizing by foreigners is discriminatory and leads to harassment of Christians. GAZPROM RESTORES SHIPMENTS TO BELARUS. The Russian gas company Gazprom on 22 July announced it is restoring full gas shipments to Belarus after reaching a deal with Minsk on repaying debts amounting to $125 million, Interfax reported. Gazprom recently cut deliveries by half to force Belarus to pay its debts. After talks in Moscow on 22 July, Belarusian government officials agreed to pay the debts and Gazprom to return shipments to normal levels. Interfax quoted a Gazprom official as saying Belarus agreed to pay 30 percent of the debts in cash and the remainder through barter and other means. Meanwhile, Gazprom began reducing supplies to Ukraine on 22 July in an effort to force it to pay more than $300 million in debts. JOURNALISTS DETAINED BY BELARUSIAN BORDER GUARD. Belarusian border guards on 22 July detained a Belarusian camera team working for Russia's ORT television network. The journalists were detained on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, Interfax reported. The crew included ORT's Minsk bureau chief Pavel Sheremet, a cameraman, and a driver. They were detained while shooting footage on the activities of Belarus border guards. A spokesperson for the Belarusian State Border Committee said Sheremet had applied for permission to shoot footage on the border and was given approval for this fall. He had decided, however, to film now without permission. A report has been filed stating that the journalists violated laws on protecting the border area. The men have since been released and have returned to Minsk. Sheremet was recently stripped of his accreditation for Belarus. UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES PROSECUTOR-GENERAL. Leonid Kuchma signed a decree on 22 July dismissing Prosecutor-General Hryhory Vorsinov. A presidential spokeswoman told journalists that retirement was given as the reason for relieving Vorsinov. She also said Kuchma has appointed Oleh Lytvak as acting prosecutor-general. Vorsinov, 61, was considered an ally of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who quit recently citing health problems. Until now, Lytvak has headed the National Bureau of Investigation, a recently created body to fight widespread corruption and organized crime. Lytvak was previously Kuchma's top legal adviser. UKRAINIAN TO BE ONLY OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN UKRAINE? Ukrainian deputy Vladimir Alexeyev told a news conference in Simferopol, Crimea, on 22 July that the Ukrainian government and the president's office have submitted a bill to the parliament under which Ukrainian would become the only official language in Ukraine, Russian news agency RIA reported. The bill proclaims Ukrainian as the only official language in all social spheres throughout the country, including the autonomous region of Crimea. All civil servants and other persons speaking languages other than Ukrainian in public offices will be fined. Alexeyev said "this coercive promotion of the Ukrainian language amounts to discrimination against citizens of many nationalities" in Ukraine. Opposition parliamentary groups have prepared an alternative bill, but the government version is more likely to be passed, Alexeyev noted. ESTONIA REFUSES RESIDENCE PERMITS TO NINE RUSSIAN RESERVE OFFICERS. Economics Minister Jaak Leimann announced on 22 July that the government has refused residence permits to nine Russian reserve officers and their families, ETA reported. The men are all former Soviet officers who are married to Estonian citizens and remained in Estonia after Soviet troops withdrew from the country. Leimann said they were not granted permits because they "could be called to active duty for Russia." Tallinn perceives this "as a danger to the security of Estonia," he added. One of the officers, Sergeii Miroshnitshenko, was previously refused a permit, but a court overruled that decision because his name had been misspelled. The government corrected the mistake and compiled a lengthy file on Miroshnitshenko, noting that he received training in Soviet ideological propaganda and is reported to have recently made anti- Estonian remarks to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe representative in Tallinn. LATVIAN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS PREMIER AMID GOVERNMENT CRISIS. Guntis Ulmanis on 22 July expressed his support for Premier Andris Skele, who earlier had announced a plan to resolve the government crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997), BNS reported. Ulmanis said he believes Skele's government "should continue the work it started until the [October 1998] parliamentary elections." He added that the crisis threatened the country's reforms and its bids to join NATO and the EU. Besides drawing up a timetable to fill the five ministerial vacancies, Skele proposed the ruling parties meet soon to discuss the EU Commission's recommendation that six countries be invited to begin accession talks, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported. He also proposed that within 10 days, the Foreign Ministry and parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission present a plan on how to improve the performance of Latvian diplomats and that the minister for European affairs submit a detailed proposal on how Latvian state institutions can better comply with EU requirements. VILNIUS POLICE LEADERS DISMISSED OVER BEATING OF FRENCH DIPLOMAT. Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius has accepted the resignation of Vilnius police chief Vytautas Leipus and approved the dismissal of two of his deputies over the beating of a French diplomat, BNS reported on 22 July. Three young men severely beat and robbed Patric Donobedian, the 42-year-old cultural officer at the French Embassy, not far from his home in the city's Old Town on 20 July. Donobedian remains in intensive care in a Vilnius hospital. The assault was the latest in a series of incidents in the Lithuanian capital in which diplomats and other foreigners have been attacked. Vagnorius said the French diplomat's beating has "damaged the state's prestige." Meanwhile, Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis has informed the premier of plans for a police operation to eliminate criminal gangs from the city. POLISH PREMIER APOLOGIZES FOR HIS REMARKS ON FLOOD INSURANCE. Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz says he regrets telling Polish flood victims they should have taken out insurance. In a statement published in the press on 22 July, Cimoszewicz said his 8 July comments had been inappropriate and had "above all aroused understandable bitterness in the context of the scale of the rapidly growing natural disaster." Critics have accused the government of mismanaging flood relief. According to the latest estimates, the floods have so far killed 60 people and swamped more than a thousand towns and villages. Damage is estimated at billions of zlotys. Many people, including small farmers, have lost their homes and livelihoods. Most were not insured because, they say, they could not afford to pay insurance premiums. SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER RECEIVES LETTER FROM BRITISH COUNTERPART. Tony Blair has said Britain is ready "to provide [to Slovakia] whatever assistance we can to meet the standards required for integration into Western structures." The British ambassador to Slovakia handed a letter from Blair to Meciar on 22 July. Britain will hold the rotating chairmanship of the EU as of January 1997, when EU integration talks are scheduled to begin. Blair also wrote that he believes that "the decisions taken by NATO in Madrid will enhance the security not only of the alliance but of the whole of Europe." The NATO summit in Madrid left Slovakia out of the first group of Central European countries invited to NATO integration talks. In addition, the European Commission did not recommend Slovakia as one of the countries to begin EU integration talks because it is not seen as meeting political conditions for EU membership. SLOVAK GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS MECIAR'S CRITICISM OF US AMBASSADOR. Spokeswoman Ludmila Bulakova told journalists in Bratislava on 22 July that the government considers U.S. ambassador Ralph Johnson's remarks of 14 July "inappropriate" and fully supports Premier Meciar's stance. When asked whether the government also identified with Meciar having compared Johnson to former the Soviet ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, she replied, "Yes." Johnson, in a public lecture in Bratislava, criticized the growing centralization of power in Slovakia and intolerance toward people whose opinions differ from those of the government. He also criticized the failure to solve criminal cases that have a political background, including the 1995 abduction of President Michal Kovac's son. The president has distanced himself from Meciar's attacks on Johnson (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997). SECRET SERVICE MINISTER'S RESIGNATION DEMANDED IN HUNGARY. Laszlo Koever, a member of the Alliance of Young Democrats and of the parliament's National Security Committee, has demanded the resignation of Secret Services Minister Istvan Nikolits and his chief of staff Tamas Somogyi, on grounds of inefficiency, Hungarian media reported on 22 July. The committee's report on the controversial "Operation Birch Tree" concludes that the secret service collected potentially damaging data on parliamentary members while investigating organized crime by foreign groups. The report also states that the Intelligence Office overstepped its authority but that there was no indication that its staff intended to use the information to discredit politicians. Committee chairman Imre Konya said he voted in favor of the report, although Nikolits's political responsibility is not made explicit in the document. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE BOSNIAN SERB COURT BACKS PLAVSIC. The Constitutional Court of the Republika Srpska met in Pale on 22 July and overruled the cabinet's objections to President Biljana Plavsic's decision to dissolve the parliament and call new elections. The court said the government has no business interfering in matters that the constitution clearly delegates to the president and to the legislature. Aside from the army's luke-warm backing for Plavsic, the decision marks the first time that a major institution of the Bosnian Serb state has taken the side of the embattled president. The court must now rule on the parliament's objections to Plavsic's decision dissolving the legislature and calling elections, an RFE/RL correspondent in Pale reported. U.S. GENERAL CALLS FOR NEW GUIDANCE FOR CATCHING WAR CRIMINALS. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Osterthaler said in Washington on 22 July that British SFOR troops acted within their mandate when they recently hunted down two Bosnian Serb war criminals. The senior military official added, however, that all NATO member states must agree on a "new political guidance" if the troops are to go after major figures such as Radovan Karadzic. Meanwhile in Bosnia, a grenade exploded outside the Brcko district office of Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia. MONTENEGRIN ELECTIONS SLATED FOR OCTOBER. Montenegrin parliament speaker Svetozar Marovic has decided to call presidential elections for 5 October, the independent news agency Montena-faks reported from Podgorica on 22 July. Also in the Montenegrin capital, the parliament continued discussions of the recent election of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to the federal Yugoslav presidency. Most Montenegrin leaders charge that the election was rushed through the federal parliament before the Montenegrin legislature could discuss Milosevic's candidacy. Political observers say that Milosevic forced the early vote precisely in order to head off potential opposition from Podgorica. Milosevic was inaugurated on 23 July. The Montenegrin parliament also expressed its opposition to Milosevic's proposed changes to the federal constitution, which are aimed at strengthening his power over the republics. U.S. FAVORS CONTINUED UN PRESENCE IN DISPUTED CROATIAN PENINSULA. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson said in Skopje on 22 July that Washington regards Macedonia "as a source of regional stability." Earlier that day, he stated in Dubrovnik that UN monitors should stay on in southern Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula until Zagreb and Belgrade agree on its future. Prevlaka is Croatian territory, but it offers access to Yugoslavia's only naval base, which is located in Kotor Bay. President Tudjman has hinted that he would be willing to swap the peninsula for Bosnian Serb territory near Dubrovnik, but Croatian public opinion and the Bosnian federal government strongly oppose such a deal. TUDJMAN SACKS LEADING GENERALS. The Croatian Defense Ministry on 22 July announced the retirement of three well-known generals-- Ante Roso, Djuro Decak, and Ivan Korade--as well as the transfer of nine other top officers. No official reason was given for the changes. Independent media said, however, that the ousted officers were linked to war crimes or corruption and were sacrificed as part of President Tudjman's efforts to promote Croatia's admission to NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Since the Croatian armed forces were set up in 1991, Tudjman has tried to raise them to NATO standards of equipment, leadership, and training. NEWS FROM FORMER YUGOSLAVIA. A Vatican spokesman on 22 July denied that the Holy See is holding Ustasha gold from World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997). In Sarajevo, representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the Bosnian local elections slated for September, banned from the ballot in Brcko the top three candidates of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). This marks the second time that the OSCE has punished the Serbs for manipulating voter registration lists in the strategic north Bosnian town. The OSCE has forced Muslims and Croats off the ballot elsewhere. And in Kosovo, Radio Pristina said that storms have destroyed up to half the region's harvest. LONG-RANGE MISSILES STOLEN IN ALBANIA. Top military officials said in Gjirokaster on 22 July that unidentified persons stole some 15 surface-to-surface and surface-to-air Chinese Silkworm-type missiles from an underground tunnel on 20 July. A Defense Ministry spokesman said on Albanian TV that an investigation is under way. An army commander told Reuters that "all the Kalashnikovs that have been looted are nothing compared to this." Military officials said they suspect that foreign or domestic "mafias" are behind the theft, but the officials did not rule out political motives. Meanwhile in Vlora, rival gangs fought on 21 July with anti-tank rockets, mortars, and machine guns. Local residents fled to underground shelters. News agencies said the fighting was the worst Vlora had seen since anarchy broke out in March. The international community had hoped that the June elections would end unrest. ROMANIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE CHIEF RESIGNS. Gen. Decebal Ilina, chief of the Military Intelligence Service, announced at a press conference in Bucharest on 22 July that he is resigning as of 1 August, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said he has completed four years in that post, adding that intelligence chiefs should not serve for decades, as was the case before and during the communist regime. Ilina rejected a recent statement by Premier Victor Ciorbea, who said the country's secret services must undergo a process of de-Sovietization. He said Romania's military intelligence had cut any ties with Warsaw Pact countries intelligence services in 1962. There is speculation among Romanian media that Ilinca's resignation is connected with the recent detention of a Swiss diplomat under suspicion of spying for Romania. ROMANIAN FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL UNDER INVESTIGATION... Also on 22 July, Radio Bucharest reported that Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) Gen. Dumitru Ciobanu, a former deputy director of the service, is under investigation by the military section of the Prosecutor-General's Office. He is suspected of having leaked secret information to unauthorized sources. The independent news agency AR-press says Ciobanu may be "a scapegoat" for SIE chief Ioan Talpes, who, according to as yet unconfirmed reports, has resigned and will be replaced by presidential counselor Catalin Harnagea. The same agency reports that the military section is investigating allegations that Talpes received $50,000 to use his influence for facilitating a bank loan to the former ruling party, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania. ...WHILE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL'S APPOINTMENT REVOKED. Acting on instructions from President Emil Constantinescu, Costin Georgescu, the director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), has revoked the appointment of Col. Gheorghe Atudoroaie as SRI chief for western Romania. Atudoroaie was acquitted by a Timisoara court for involvement in the reprisals against the anti-communist uprising in December 1989 in Timisoara. He had served in that city as deputy chief of the Securitate, the communist-era secret service. MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY UPDATE. In a declaration issued on 22 July, the 11 parliamentary deputies who quit the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova (PDAM) said that the party has "diverged" from the platform that ensured its election victory in the 1994 elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1997). They also said that the dismissal of Dumitru Diacov as parliamentary deputy chairman was an "act of revenge" for his and other PDAM deputies' support of President Petru Lucinschi rather than Andrei Sangheli, the PDAM candidate in the presidential December 1996 elections. They explained that they did not back Sangheli because he had "discredited" the PDAM. They also noted that Diacov's dismissal demonstrates the PDAM faction's opposition to the reforms promoted by Lucinschi, according to RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau. Valentin Dolganiuc, the leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Popular Front, called the resignation of the 11 PDAM deputies "a political farce," Infotag reported. RUSSIA OPPOSES UKRAINIAN OBSERVERS IN TRANSDNIESTER. Vladimir Ustinov, the Russian representative on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) in the Transdniester breakaway region, told the commission on 22 July that the military units in the security zone should be "gradually reduced" rather than bolstered by more observers. Ustinov made the remarks in connection with the possible arrival of Ukrainian peace keepers in the region. But Moldovan representative Vasile Sova said the arrival of the Ukrainian observers did not mean that Kyiv would be represented in the region by large military contingents, BASA-press reported. Rather, their presence was part and parcel of Ukraine's role as a mediator in the peace-keeping process. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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