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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 1, No. 135, Part II, 9 October 1997
A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I covers Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II *UKRAINE, HUNGARY OPEN NATO MISSIONS *SFOR SEEKS TO RESTORE ORDER NEAR DRVAR *PRO-PALE POLICE REPEL PRO-PLAVSIC OFFICERS End Note ONE HUNDRED DAYS OF BULGARIA'S CURRENCY BOARD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINE, HUNGARY OPEN NATO MISSIONS. Ukraine and Hungary on 8 October became the first non-NATO countries to establish missions accredited to the Western alliance, ITAR-TASS reported. Ukrainian Ambassador Boris Tarasiuk presented his credentials to NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana during a meeting of the alliance council on 8 October. In his presentation speech, Tarasiuk reaffirmed Ukraine's desire for gradual integration into European and Euro- Atlantic institutions. UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES KUCHMA VETO ON PENSIONS. The Ukrainian parliament on 8 October voted to override a presidential veto of a law that would increase the minimum pension in that country to 70.9 hryvnas ($38) a month, ITAR-TASS reported. President Leonid Kuchma had vetoed the bill saying the government did not have the funds to pay for the increase and that it would "lead the entire budget process into deadlock." BALTIC ARMY CHIEFS DISCUSS ESTONIAN TRAINING TRAGEDY. Estonian Defense Forces Commander in Chief. Major General Johannes Kert met with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts in Riga on 8 October to inform them of the causes of the mid-September accident in which 14 Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion (BALTBAT) troops died, BNS reported. Kert argued that Second Lieutenant Jaanus Karm, the commander of the ill-fated unit, must take responsibility for the tragedy since he had misjudged conditions. Kert also pointed to lack of supervision over the exercises and the violation of safety provisions as the main reasons for the accident. The three army chiefs concluded that control over the observance of discipline during military maneuvers must be tightened. Meanwhile in Tallinn, the security police has announced it considers Karm to be mainly responsible for the deaths of the 14 peacekeepers. BRITISH TROOPS HOLD MANEUVERS IN POLAND. Some 4,500 troops from the U.K. are holding maneuvers in northwestern Poland, Polish news agencies reported on 8 October. No Polish troops are taking part in the exercise. On a visit to the site of the maneuvers, Britain's junior Defense Minister John Reid reaffirmed London's commitment for Poland to join NATO. INFLATION RISES IN CZECH REPUBLIC. Consumer price inflation exceeded 10 percent in September for the first time in 26 months, according to the Czech Statistical Office. The rate was put at 10.3 percent, up 0.6 percentage points over August. "Hospodarske noviny" on 9 October quoted a Czech National Bank spokesman as saying the inflation rate is likely to remain around the 10 percent mark for the rest of the year. SLOVAK GOVERNMENT PROPOSES POLICE "HELPERS" CORPS. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's cabinet on 8 October adopted a bill that would establish a "helpers service" for the country's police force. Opposition Christian Democrat and former Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner has voiced his opposition to the bill, which is to be submitted to the parliament. He told "Sme" that the "price of public security should not be the emergence of a police state." Interior Minister Gustav Krajci said the bill would enable designated civilians to wear arm bands and carry special identity cards. He added that the volunteers would be empowered to check identity documents and confiscate weapons. They would be armed with tear gas and truncheons and, in certain cases, would have the right to use handcuffs. The government wants to hire 6,000 volunteers in 1998 and will pay them on an annual basis. OPPOSITION BOYCOTTS ROUND-TABLE TALKS. The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) was the only non-governing party to participate in round-table talks with the three ruling coalition members in Bratislava on 8 October. Following the parliament's recent decision not to reinstate Frantisek Gaulieder as deputy, eight opposition parties refused to participate in such talks until the ruling coalition respects the Constitutional Court's decison calling on lawmakers to return Gaulieder's mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1997). The agenda of the 8 October talks included the election of the president, the next parliamentary elections, the security situation in the country, and Slovakia's integration efforts. SDL Chairman Jozef Migas said after the two-hour meeting that holding round-table talks without defining goals is "wrong." He added that "it makes no sense and we look ridiculous at home and in the eyes of the world," RFE/RL's Slovak Service reported. NEW NATO MEMBERS TO CONTRIBUTE 4 PERCENT OF BUDGET? Citing unnamed NATO sources, the Hungarian daily "Vilaggazdasag" on 9 October reported that an agreement has been reached among NATO members that the alliance's three new member countries--Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic--will together contribute 4 percent of the alliance's budget. The daily said this would amount to $12 million annually for Budapest. SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE SFOR SEEKS TO RESTORE ORDER NEAR DRVAR... Canadian troops of the NATO-led Stabilization Force were deployed on 7 October to guard a western Bosnian village after Bosnian Croats attacked the homes of Serbian returnees. SFOR said a Croatian official who hit a Canadian soldier with his car was removed from the vehicle and physically restrained by the troops guarding the village of Martin Brod, near Drvar. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said in Sarajevo on 8 October that the violence erupted after the return of 27 Serbs who had fled the Bosnian Croat-held village at the end of the Bosnian war. The UNHCR had organized their return. Janowski said Croatian workmen claiming to have received orders to repair the houses for Croats forced their way into the houses, throwing out the Serbs' belongings and sending the returnees fleeing to a single building in the village. ...AS MOSTAR RADIO SAYS AGREEMENT REACHED. Bosnian Croat Mostar Radio quoted Bosnian Croat police in Drvar on 8 October as saying SFOR troops had erected barbed wire barricades at the entrance to Martin Brod and were barring access to everyone except Drvar police. At a meeting in Drvar, local officials and the UNHCR agreed that the local police will guarantee the security of all people living in Martinbrod. They also agreed that SFOR checkpoints there would be dismantled by 9 October and that the repatriation of former residents will be carried out through agreement between all interested parties. In addition, temporary residence permits for displaced Croats will be canceled if the lists of returnees include the Serbian owners of the homes in which the displaced Croats are residing. The two sides stressed that all necessary conditions must be fulfilled for the return of displaced Croats, mainly to Banja Luka. SFOR LIFTS BAN ON BOSNIAN FEDERATION ARMY MOVEMENTS. SFOR spokesman in Sarajevo Jan Joosten said on 8 October that following the Muslim-Croatian federation's confirmation that there are no more prisoners of war in the federation, SFOR has lifted its ban on the movement and training of troops from the mainly Muslim Bosnia- Herzegovina Army and from the Bosnian Croat Defense Council. Sarajevo Radio also quoted Joosten as saying that during an SFOR inspection of a civil police station in Mrkonjic Grad , SFOR troops confiscated 10 automatic guns, as well as a considerable amount of other arms and ammunition. PRO-PALE POLICE REPEL PRO-PLAVSIC OFFICERS. Police loyal to the hard-line Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale early on 8 October foiled attempts by forces loyal to President Biljana Plavsic to seize Interior Ministry facilities in the northern Bosnian towns of Bijeljina, Derventa, Teslic, and Bosanski Brod, SRNA reported. The Pale-based news agency said that "legitimate" Interior Ministry forces were given a timely tip-off from a leader of the "renegade" Banja Luka Public Security Center who did not want to see "fraternal" Serbian blood being shed. NEW MINES IN JAJCE, EXPLOSIONS IN PRNJAVOR. Banja Luka Srpski Radio on 8 October quoted a local SFOR spokesman as saying new mines have been laid in the Bosnian Croat-held Jajce area. One person lost both legs when one of the mines exploded, the seventh such casualty in recent weeks. A UN International Police Task Force spokesman said that another explosion occurred in the village of Luzani, near Prnjavor, on 4 October following two explosions in the area in September. He confirmed that the bridge over the Sava River to Croatia at Bosanska Gradiska was reopened on 26 September but noted the issue of visas and insurance of vehicles has not been resolved yet. As a result, he said, the reopening of the Bosanska Gradiska border crossing to vehicles has been postponed until final agreement is reached. OSCE TO POSTPONE ANNOUNCING BRCKO ELECTION RESULTS? Banja Luka's independent Big Radio has reported that the official results of the local elections in Brcko will be postponed again. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe had announced that the final tally would be announced on 8 October. Teodor Gavric, president of the local electoral commission, said all the votes have been counted and that the reason for the postponement may be the "large number of complaints that the OSCE has received in the meantime." BOSNIAN CROATS PLEAD NOT GUILTY. All 10 Croats from central Bosnia who handed themselves over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague pleaded innocent at their first hearing on 8 October. Four are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes for heading the Bosnian Croat troops who allegedly killed and tortured Muslim men, women, and children and drove hundreds more from 14 towns in the central Lasva Valley in 1992-1993. The six other suspects are charged with participating in a massacre in the mostly Muslim village of Ahmici, in central Bosnia. If convicted, the 10 face up to life imprisonment (the tribunal does not have a death sentence). ALBANIA ASKS YUGOSLAVIA TO REOPEN BORDER WITH MONTENEGRO. At an 8 October meeting with Yugoslav charge d'affaires in Tirana Stanimir Vukicevic, Albanian Interior Minister Neritan Ceka requested that Yugoslavia reopen the border crossing point of Hani i Hotit on the shore of Lake Skadar, ATA reported. Ceka informed Vukicevic of measures taken by the Albanian police to strengthen border controls and reestablish order. Vukicevic responded that he would forward Ceka's request to the competent authorities. They also discussed the possibility of opening other border crossing points between Albania and Yugoslavia. Hani i Hotit, the only border crossing point between Albania and Montenegro, was closed as a result of nationwide unrest in Albania last March. ALBANIAN MAYORS DEMAND MORE INDEPENDENCE FROM CENTER. More than 60 mayors from around the country, meeting in Tirana on 8 October, demanded greater independence from the central government, ATA reported. Albert Brojka, the Mayor of Tirana and the chairman of the National Association of the country's Mayors, proposed that a percentage of income from value-added tax, which was recently raised from 12.5 percent to 20 percent, be transferred to local governments. Meanwhile, workers at the Albanian-Polish shipyard Durres-Gdansk staged a strike on 7 October to demand wage hikes. The Albanians say they are being discriminated against since their Polish counterparts earn 10 times more than they do, ATA reported. HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA. Laszlo Kovacs and his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, headed the first meeting of the joint commission supervising the implementation of the 1996 basic treaty, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The meeting took place in the Romanian capital on 8 October. The commission agreed that representatives of the ethnic Hungarian and Romanian minorities should participate in discussions of the sub-commission supervising the implementation of the treaty's provisions on national minority rights. The nine sub-commissions discussed the "strategic partnership" between the two countries, integration into Euro- Atlantic structures, and the fight against organized crime. Kovacs also met with President Emil Constantinescu. ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT, MINERS REACH AGREEMENT. Marin Condescu, the leader of the largest miners' trade union, said after his 8 October meeting Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea that a solution has been found to all the miners' grievances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1997). He noted that funding for the six state-owned mining companies has been ensured to the end of 1997 and that a national mining agency overseeing mines still in operation will be set up. Ten mining areas will be turned into "special economic zones." Condescu did not mention the miners' demand for a wage hike, Radio Bucharest reported. FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT BACKS DEMANDS OF "REVOLUTIONARIES." Some 500 members of associations representing those who took part in the December 1989 uprising demonstrated in downtown Bucharest on 8 October to protest the government's decision to limit privileges for those claiming to be "revolutionaries," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The demonstrators said they will "occupy" one of the capital's main squares until their meeting with Senate Chairman Petre Roman on 9 October. The law on privileges for "revolutionaries" was passed during the presidency of Ion Iliescu, who took part in the 8 October demonstration and denounced the government's intention as a "political diversion." The government argues that many of those enjoying the privileges are not entitled to them. Meanwhile, two former deputy ministers are under investigation for complicity in falsifying "revolutionary certificates." MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES ELECTORAL LAW. The parliament on 8 October approved the electoral law in its first reading, Infotag reported. The new legislation provides for a proportional system whereby a single nationwide constituency would elect a 101-member parliament. The elections would be held within three months of the expiration of the outgoing legislature's mandate. Parties would have to collect at least 20,000 signatures to register with a new central electoral commission. To gain entry to the parliament, a party would have to receive at least 4 percent of valid votes cast. The law must be approved in its second and third readings by the end of this year, when the mandate of the current parliament ends. CHISINAU CONSIDERS ENERGY OPTIONS. Deputy Prime Minister Ion Gutu on 8 October said that Moldova's participation in the construction of the Cernavoda nuclear energy complex in Romania is not viable from an economic point of view, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. An official from the Economics and Reform Ministry told journalists that participation in the Cernavoda complex would involve an investment totaling $ 500 million, which, he said, Moldova does not have. He added that Chisinau would have to pay a higher price for electricity from Cernavoda than that produced in Moldova or imported from other countries. In related news, Infotag reported that Russia's Gazprom company has warned that Moldova will receive only the gas supplies it can afford without applying for credits. Cibotaru said a Moldovan delegation will soon go to Russia for "difficult negotiations" aimed at ensuring "normal supplies" during the coming winter. BULGARIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OF 'FREE INTERPRETATIONS' IN DIPLOMATIC ROW... Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 8 October accused Russian officials of making "rather free interpretations of some facts while withholding other facts." Vlaikov was responding to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov's statement on 7 October that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's schedule was already full when Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova asked to meet with him at the UN General Assembly Session in New York (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 1997). Vlaikov said that the meeting had been arranged in advance and that Bulgarian officials had tried repeatedly to confirm it, Reuters reported. Also on 8 October, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that talks between Russian and Bulgarian diplomats scheduled to take place in Moscow that day have been canceled, Interfax reported. ...AS ALLEGATIONS OF RUSSIAN SPYING ACTIVITIES CONTINUE. Major General Radoslav Peshleevsky, commander of the Bulgarian engineering troops, has denied press reports that he has been recruited by the Russian intelligence services, BTA reported on 7 October. Peshleevsky threatened to sue publications that printed such allegations. END NOTE ONE HUNDRED DAYS OF BULGARIA'S CURRENCY BOARD by Petko Bocharov One hundred days after Bulgaria introduced a currency board as an emergency measure to restore discipline to monetary policy, officials in Sofia are cautiously optimistic about the effects on the country's economy. There have been major improvements, explaining why, in contrast to the gloom of three months ago, the prevailing view now is that better times are coming. Even the IMF, which maintains a notoriously austere profile, has expressed satisfaction. Assistant executive director Stanley Fisher recently called Bulgaria's financial stabilization "impressive." Lost confidence in the country's banks is returning, and private and company deposits in bank accounts are growing. And the foreign currency reserve has tripled to almost 3,8 billion German marks. Moreover, at the end of September, meetings took place in Sofia between representatives of the government and Moody's, one of the leading consulting companies that define the credit rating of securities and countries. Moody's classification of Bulgaria in 1996 was B-3, which is the lowest grade and in effect means "payment first, then delivery." Now, according to the French bank Paribas and the German investment bank Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, there are strong expectations that Moody's will raise Bulgaria's credit rating to B-1, thus listing it ahead of countries like Turkey, Romania, or Ukraine. The positive developments strengthen perceptions among the public that the Union of Democratic Forces (ODS), which won a decisive victory over the former communists in the April parliamentary elections, is leading the country in the right direction. Yet no one believes the crisis is over. The wounds inflicted by the former Socialist Party government through its long neglect of reforms are too deep for that. Bulgarians are bracing for the hardships that are still to come in the reform process. Emil Harsev, a prominent financier who opposed the Currency Board before its implementation, told RFE/RL that the crucial period will be this winter. He says the Bulgarian economy runs in cycles: summer is the season of income, winter the season of expenses. If the board endures the hardship of the cold months, its standing as an instrument of policy will be strengthened for the years ahead, he commented. The Currency Board was introduced on 1 July, amid high inflation and a deepening economic crisis. It essentially took currency matters out of the hands of the Central Bank. Harsev, a former deputy governor of the National Bank, says inflation under the currency board has not dropped as low as had been hoped. In January, prices had been rising at a level near hyper- inflation. After the ODS government took power and the currency board was put in place, inflation was about 3.5 percent in July and 5.5 percent in August, instead of the predicted rate of 2 percent. Prices of consumer goods continue to rise. One reason for this is that privatization has not yet reached the big state monopolies in power supply. Those monopolies deal with the imports of oil, natural gas, and coal; they also own refineries and electrical plants and distribute the products. The result is a "supplier's market" that pushes up inflation. But Martin Zaimov, the head of the currency board, argues that there is nothing to worry about. Zaimov, who is also vice president of the National Bank, said inflation is and will remain under control. He predicted that the inflation rate will soon fall significantly. The World Bank apparently shares his optimism. Kenneth Lay, the head of the bank's South-East Europe department, arrived in Sofia at the end of September. His arrival followed the decision, reported at the Hong Kong meetings of the IMF and World Bank, to open negotiations with Bulgaria for a considerable loan. The author writes regularly for RFE/RL. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc. 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