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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 248, Part II, 29 December 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 248, Part II, 29 December 1998 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 YEAR IN REVIEW 1998 A roundup of articles examining major news events in 1998 in the RFE/RL broadcast region and beyond. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/yearend98/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * LENINGRAD MILITARY DISTRICT SETS UP BALTIC UNIT * CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST HASTE IN JOINING EU * RUGOVA WANTS NATO ROLE IN KOSOVA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE KUCHMA ASSESSES OUTGOING YEAR AS 'COMPLEX, CONTRADICTORY.' Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said at a ceremony of bestowing state awards in Kyiv on 28 December that the year 1998 was "complex and contradictory," but "the situation is neither hopeless nor tragic," Ukrainian Television reported. According to Kuchma, Ukrainians need to "halt complaining about unfavorable conditions, roll up their sleeves, and get down to work." Kuchma criticized those politicians who made "populist proposals and promises" during the debate of Ukraine's 1999 draft budget. "Unfortunately, I have no grounds to say that the upcoming year 1999 will be much easier [than 1998]. It is obviously impossible to resolve sore problems quickly and painlessly," he added. JM CRIMEAN DEPUTY ARRESTED FOR PLOTTING CONTRACT MURDER. Crimean police have arrested Mykola Kotlyarevskyy, a deputy of the Crimean parliament, Ukrainian Television reported on 28 December. Kotlyarevskyy is charged with plotting a contract murder and a long string of assaults, extortion, and engaging in swindling cases with the assistance of a gang in 1994-97. Hennadiy Moskal, head of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's Crimean Directorate, said the Crimean parliament "has at least three [other] deputies with a criminal record," but did not disclose their names. JM BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BRIEFS ON MERGER WITH RUSSIA. Belarusian Foreign Minister Ural Latypau on 28 December held a briefing for foreign diplomats in Minsk on the Russian-Belarusian merger accords signed on 25 December in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 28 December 1999), Belarusian Television reported. According to Latypau, both Russia and Belarus will remain sovereign countries "at all stages of unification." He said the discussion of the unification process will be conducted "by a method of public opinion polls." He did not rule out amendments to the constitutions of Russia and Belarus if the future merger treaty "exceeds the constitutional framework." JM DEMONSTRATORS AGAINST BELARUS-RUSSIA MERGER PUNISHED. Minsk courts have disciplined nine people arrested for participating in the 25 December demonstration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1998) against the merger accords signed by Presidents Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Boris Yeltsin, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 December. Four people were punished with a 5-day detention, three with fines, and one with a court warning. Meanwhile, activists of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front staged a picket on 28 December in Pinsk, southern Belarus, to protest Lukashenka's integration accords with Russia. JM LENINGRAD MILITARY DISTRICT SETS UP BALTIC UNIT. Citing NATO's decision to expand and the possibility that the three Baltic countries will be included into the Western alliance, the Leningrad MD has established a "Russian army group in the Baltic direction," ITAR-Tass reported on 29 December. Given that the LMD conducted a training exercise last summer in the regions adjoining Estonia and Latvia under the rubric "Operation Return," this latest decision appears likely to exacerbate tensions in this region. PG ESTONIAN PREMIER FAVORS BALTIC FREE TRADE AREA. A spokesman for Prime Minister Mart Siiman said on 28 December that Tallinn continues to support the Baltic free trade treaty and that the Estonian government will not try to modify it, BNS reported. Siiman's Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts will meet with him in Tallinn on 7 January to discuss trade problems, including Latvia's efforts to restrict the importation of pork from Estonia. PG ESTONIA'S EUROINTEGRATION EFFORT SLOWS. Hendrik Hololei, the chief of Estonia's Eurointegration Bureau, told BNS on 28 December that Tallinn's efforts to integrate Estonia into Europe re "stalled" as a result of poor planning and administrative shortcomings within the government. Hololei added that the draft bills on this subject that had been scheduled to reach the Estonian parliament in 1998 will be several months late as a result. PG NATURALIZATION UP IN ESTONIA, LATVIA. Estonia naturalized 9196 people in the first 11 months of 1998, up from 6720 in the same period during 1997, BNS reported on 28 December. Of the new citizens, 5904 were children. As a result, some 105,032 people have been naturalized since 1992. Meanwhile in Latvia, 4439 people were naturalized in 1998, up from 2993 in 1997. That brings the total of those naturalized since the recovery of Latvian independence to 11,432. Most of those naturalized in both countries were ethnic Russians. Latvian officials told BNS that they expect the number to grow rapidly in 1999 because of changes in Latvia's citizenship legislation. PG LATVIA UNABLE TO SPEND ONE PERCENT OF GDP FOR DEFENSE. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans told Latvian Radio on 29 December that his government cannot afford to devote one percent of the country's GDP for defense spending, BNS reported. But he added that it is possible that Riga may be able to do so within a year. At present, Latvia spends a significantly lower percent of its GDP on defense than either of its Baltic neighbors. PG EUROPEAN UNION FUNDS LITHUANIAN PROJECTS. Under the terms of a memorandum signed on 28 December by EU representatives and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, the European Commission will fund several projects in Lithuania during the next year. These are part of the special "catch-up" fund established by the EU to aid those countries not included in the first round of candidacy for accession talks. PG LANDSBERGIS SAYS BRU DIRECTED AGAINST LITHUANIA. Lithuanian Parliament Speaker Vytautas Landsbergis told ITAR-Tass on 28 December that the proposed Russian- Belarusian Union was part of Moscow's effort to block Lithuania and her neighbors from joining NATO. He suggested that the timetable adopted by the Russian and Belarusian presidents on 25 December for what he called "Russia's westward expansion" was set to coincide with the Western alliance's Washington summit. PG VISITORS TO POLAND MUST SHOW FINANCIAL SUPPORT. A new customs regulation taking effect on 1 January 1999 obliges foreigners entering Poland to show on request that they have enough money for their stay, AP reported on 29 December. According to the regulation, foreign tourists older than 16 years must have at least 500 zlotys ($143), or at least 100 zlotys for each day they intend to stay. Those under 16 must have 300 zlotys, or 50 zlotys for each day of their stay. Foreigners using Poland as a transit route must also have financial support: 200 zlotys for those over 16 and 100 zlotys for others. Polish officials have said the new regulation is intended to tighten border controls without having to reintroduce visas for citizens of post-Soviet states in the east. JM CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST HASTE IN JOINING EU. The government does not regard 1 January 2003, which has been set as the target date for joining the European Union, "as dogma," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in an interview with "Lidove noviny" on 28 December. Kavan said postponing the date for joining the EU "for the benefit of better preparation could be an advantage," CTK reported. He said one might remember as "an analogy" Greece, "whose industry has been destroyed by joining the EU." Kavan said that joining the union was "nonetheless necessary" because non-member states were exposed to "unfavorable conditions raising from West European protectionism." MS CZECH SKINHEADS CHARGED FOR ATTACK ON ROMA. Six skinheads were charged on 28 December for a racially- motivated attack on an invalid Roma at the Havlickuv Brod railway station on 14 November, CTK reported. The six, three of whom are minors, attacked the deaf and dumb man as he was leaving a restaurant in the station. The case will come before a court of justice in late January, and if found guilty, the skinheads could face up to three years in prison. Also on 28 December, Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl said he decided not to announce a tender for a memorial that is to be set up at the site of a former Romany concentration camp in Lety, southern Bohemia. The camp functioned between 1939 and 1943 and is now occupied by a pig farm. Uhl said he first plans to raise money for the transfer of the farm to another site. MS OPPOSITION WALKS OUT OF HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT IN PROTEST. Deputies representing the opposition Socialist Party and the Free Democrats walked out of the parliament on 28 December in protest against a government proposal to change the proportion of representation on the supervisionary bodies of the state radio, state television, Duna television and the MTI news agency, Reuters and MTI reported. The government proposed to add six members to these bodies and the oposition says this would leave it in the minority. A law passed under the former Socialist-Free Democrats coalition gave equal representation to government and opposition on the bodies controlling public media. Also on 28 December, president Arpad Goencz appointed Tamas Deutsch as Minister of Youth and Sports as of 1 January 1999. Deutsch became known after his arrest in Prague in August 1989, at an opposition protest marking the 1968 Soviet invasion. MS HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDED 1999 BUDGET. The parliament on 28 December approved an amended version of the 1999 budget with a vote of 205-145. The total budget is 3.5 trillion forints ($ 16 billion) and the projected deficit is 374.17 billion forints ($ 1.7 billion), representing some 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, AP and MTI reported. The legislature also approved the setting up of a controversial tax police, to be called the Criminal Directorate. It granted the directorate large investigative powers, including that of covert surveillance. The new body is designed to combat tax evasion. An estimated 30 percent of Hungary's GDP is generated by the black economy. MS SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE RUGOVA WANTS NATO ROLE IN KOSOVAŠ Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 28 December that the "civilian Albanian population is threatened" by the Serbian military and police presence and operations in the Llap region near Podujeva, KIC news agency reported. A stepped-up international, including NATO, engagement is needed to force Belgrade to end its aggressive policy of ethnic cleansing, Rugova added. Meanwhile in the Podujeva area, the latest cease- fire held on 28 and 29 December against a background of fog and freezing temperatures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1998). The fighting over the long weekend led to a total of 14 killed and four wounded, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM ŠAS DOES ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT. The Albanian legislature in a special session on 28 December passed a resolution charging Belgrade with "openly [committing] ethnic cleansing [and violating] Security Council Resolutions" in Kosova. The resolution says that NATO intervention is needed to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe" and to speed up a political solution. The declaration also urged the international community to organize an international conference at which the future status of Kosova will be negotiated. Parliament asked the government to give "strong support" to the Kosovars and called on all political forces in Albania and Kosova to find a common platform on the issue, "Zeri i Popullit" reported. The opposition Democratic Party did not participate in the session. Legislator Vili Minarolli from the Democrats told the Enter news agency that his party prefers to discuss the resolution at a multi-party round table. FS UCK SAYS SERBIAN FORCES THREATEN KOSOVARS, FOREIGNERS. The Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) said in a statement in Prishtina on 28 December that Kosovars and international employees alike face increasing danger from Serbian security forces in the Llap region. KIC quoted the UCK as stating: "having been defeated by the UCK forcesŠ on 24 December, the Serbian occupation forces took revenge against the [ethnic] Albanian civilian population and threatened OSCE observers and international media representatives." The guerrillas pledged that "international institutions, governmental and non-governmental, as well as media representatives, will in no way face obstructions by the Albanian people and the UCK. They will in no way be harmed by us, but rather welcomed." The UCK urged foreign representatives not to assign equal blame to the "criminal and the victimŠ We are confident you have not sent your representatives to approve the Belgrade regime's crimes," the text concluded. PM UNHCR LOOKS FOR DISPLACED PERSONS. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva on 28 December that efforts are under way to locate the up to 5,000 persons who fled their homes in sub-zero temperatures during the past week's fighting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1998). The spokesman added that most displaced people have probably fled to the homes of friends and relatives nearby, but also that some are living rough in the nearby hills. Some Serbs and Montenegrins as well as ethnic Albanians have fled their homes in recent days. PM BOSNIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS UNITE. Representatives of the two strongest non-nationalist opposition parties agreed in Tuzla on 28 December to merge the Social Democratic Party and the Social Democrats of Bosnia-Herzegovina as of 27 February. The new party will be called the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The two parties are the direct descendants of the former League of Communists and have their strongest bases of support in Sarajevo and Tuzla. The two parties together have 25 seats out of 140 in the federation's lower house. Representatives of the international community and West European Social Democrats have been working for over one year to bring about the merger in an effort to counterbalance the strength of the nationalists. PM BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY NOMINATES NEW GOVERNMENT LEADERS. The three-member joint presidency agreed in Sarajevo on 28 December to keep Muslim politician Haris Silajdzic as one of the two co-prime ministers and to replace hard- line Serb Boro Bosic with moderate Svetozar Mihajlovic for the other position. The Croatian Democratic Community's Neven Tomic will keep his deputy premiership. The joint parliament must now vote on the nominations, as well as on a proposal to increase the number of ministries. PM POPLASEN TO PUSH INTEGRATION WITH BELGRADE. Hard-line Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" of 28 December that the Bosnian Serbs will seek closer integration with federal Yugoslavia "in the near future." He stressed that the Bosnian Serbs are entitled to better ties with Belgrade as a quid-pro-quo for their having accepted the Dayton agreement. Critics of the peace treaty have said that one of its basic flaws is that it recognizes a single Bosnian state, but gives broad powers to each of the two entities. The Republika Srpska maintains its own relations with Belgrade, while the federation has special ties to Zagreb. PM TUDJMAN TAKES STOCK OF 1998. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said in Zagreb on 28 December that the high points of this past year for his country were the reintegration of eastern Slavonia, the papal visit, and the signing of an agreement on special relations between Croatia and the Bosnian federation. Tudjman spoke at a reception for 2,000 people at his official residence. PM CROATIA TO REVIEW COOPERATION WITH HAGUE? Ivic Pasalic, who is Tudjman's top aide and regarded by many as the second most important man in Croatia, told "Jutarnji list" of 28 December that Zagreb may reconsider or even stop its cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal if the court indicts persons who are currently top commanders of the Croatian army. The unnamed generals may be sought for atrocities they allegedly committed during the successful Croatian offensives of 1995, Pasalic suggested. Pasalic, who comes from Herzegovina, argued that no Serb or Muslim has been charged with crimes against Croats in conjunction with the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that some Serbs indicted for atrocities in Croatia are living openly in Serbia. Tudjman recently suggested in a speech that the court has secretly indicted up to six Croatian generals. PM ALBANIAN POLICE TEAR DOWN KIOSKS. Police began tearing down over 37 unlicensed kiosks on central Tirana's Skanderbeg Square on 26 December. City officials said that they want to erect a monument for Mother Teresa on the site, where a statue of dictator Enver Hoxha stood until 1991. Some owners of the kiosks threatened to start a hunger strike, saying they have lost their only source of income and that the police action also made them homeless. Meanwhile, Croatian-Albanian businessman Vebi Velija, who owns the property, demanded that he be allowed to build a high-rise building there. He told the "Albanian Daily News" of 29 December that the government has for years denied him a building permit and warned that the authorities are sending a wrong signal to foreign investors. FS ITALIAN BANK WINS ALBANIAN PRIVATIZATION TENDER. Privatization Ministry official Vasil Pano told "Albanian Daily News" of 29 December that Milan's Banca Intermediazione Mobiliare has won a World Bank tender to consult Albania's government on the privatization of five key industries, including oil, mining and telecommunications. The privatization process is scheduled to begin in January 1999. Meanwhile, in separate incidents between 26 and 28 December near the southern Italian coast, the Italian Coast Guard intercepted four speed boats carrying a total of over 100 illegal immigrants, most of whom are Kosovars and Kurds. FS LIQUIDATION OF LOSS MAKING STATE COMPANIES INITIATED IN ROMANIA. The State Property Fund on 28 December started legal procedures for the liquidation of 30 loss making state companies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Radu Sarbu, chairman of the fund, said some 12-15 of these companies may be able to restart operating next spring as private companies because investors have expressed an interest in taking over their debts and investing in technological restructuring. The closure of the companies will affect some 70,000 persons, who will receive the compensation stipulated under the law as soon as the affected companies' administrative boards approve the closures. Sarbu said a total of 49 loss making state companies will be liquidated in the near future. MS ROMANIAN MINERS BRACE FOR STRIKE. The two main unions representing Romanian miners set up a joint committee on 28 December to prepare the strike planned for 4 January in protest against the government's plans to close pits, Mediafax reported. The committee is demanding a meeting with premier Radu Vasile and said the planned strike might be postponed until 11 January, depending on the outcome of the meeting. The committee was empowered to prepare the unification of all unions representing miners. Miron Cozma, the leader of the Jiu Valley miners, said he is prepared to step down in order to facilitate the unification. Cozma and the leader of the Cartel Alfa miners, Marin Condeescu, have long been opponents. MS MOLDOVAN HARD CURRENCY RESERVES HALVED IN 1998. National Bank chairman Leonid Talmaci on 28 December told Infotag that Moldova's hard currency reserves were halved in 1998-- from $ 300 million before the August Russian financial crisis to about $ 150 million at present. Talmaci also said he expects the 1998 inflation rate to be about 10 percent and forecast that in 1999 the rate will be 15 percent. MS BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEFINES 1999 TASKS. Nadezhda Mihailova told BTA on 27 December that Bulgaria's "chief challenge" in the forthcoming year is to prove to its partners in the international community that its 1997-98 progress was part of "a persistent successful policy." She said the reforms that had been carried out are "irreversible" and prove that Bulgaria "can be a worthy member of the European and the Euro-Atlantic community." Priorities in 1999 will concentrate on initiatives connected with the region, regional stability and efforts to find a solution to the Kosova crisis, Mihailova said, adding that Sofia's involvement in finding solutions to Kosova can have "a positive effect on the country's image." She said the crisis has no direct impact on Bulgaria and does not pose an immediate threat to its national security, but has an influence on the region's image that impacts every country and makes foreign investors cautious. MS BULGARIAN PREMIER MEETS FORMER MONARCH. Ivan Kostov met on 28 December with former King Simeon II, who is spending his Christmas holiday in Bulgaria, AP reported. The government press office said the premier informed Simeon about the costs of maintenance of two palaces, three hunting lodges and two country houses that the monarch is to be restored ownership of in line with a June decision of the Constitutional Court. 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