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RFE/RL NEWSLINE

RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 22, Part II, 2 February 1999


________________________________________________________
RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 22, Part II, 2 February 1999

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

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Headlines, Part II

* SLOVAK GOVERNMENT WANTS TO INVESTIGATE MECIAR-ERA
OFFICIALS

* BELGRADE APPEALS TO UN

* CROATIA FREES NADA SAKIC
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EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE

UKRAINIAN FARMERS IN DIRE NEED OF FUEL. The government's
failure to deliver fuel to Ukrainian farmers means that
crops may not be planted and this year's harvest will be
threatened, the Ukrainian News agency reported on 2
February. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vasyl Shpak said
the government is "lagging behind" and that farms in
most regions will begin planting in "two or three
weeks." The government pledged to supply some 2.2
million tons of fuel to farmers but has so far
reportedly delivered only 2,750 tons. In other news, the
government raised the monthly minimum wage from 55
hryvni ($16) to 74 hryvni, as stipulated by a bill
approved by the parliament in December. The average
monthly wage in Ukraine in December was 176 hryvni. PB

SOCIALIST PARTY LEADER TOPS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL.
Some 15 percent of respondents in a recent poll chose
Natalia Vitrenko, the leader of the Progressive
Socialist Party, as their favored presidential
candidate, AP reported on 1 February. President Leonid
Kuchma came in second with 13 percent, followed by
Oleksandr Moroz of the Socialist Party and Communist
Party head Petro Symonenko with 10 percent each. The
election is scheduled for 31 October. The poll was
conducted by Socis-Gallup. PB

UKRAINE CRACKS DOWN ON ILLEGAL ALCOHOL PRODUCTION.
Ukrainian tax police shut down 24 illegal alcohol plants
in January, Interfax reported on 31 January. Ukrainian
tax police chief Viktor Zhvaliuk said the crackdown is a
continuation of a program begun last year, when police
uncovered some 200 elicit alcohol production sites. More
than 30,000 people have been poisoned by low-quality
alcohol since 1997. Officials estimate that nearly 50
percent of cigarettes and one-quarter of alcohol sold in
Ukraine is either smuggled or illegally produced. PB

BELARUSIAN RUBLE GAINS AGAINST DOLLAR. The Belarusian
ruble gained slightly against the dollar on 1 February
after the government allowed commercial banks to trade
in hard currencies, Belapan reported. The black market
rate fell to 270,000-280,000 to $1, down from 290,000-
295,000 to $1 at the end of last week. The official rate
at the National Bank of Belarus was 136,000 to $1.
Observers believe that the government's move to allow
commercial banks to exchange Western currencies is
intended to please an IMF mission due to arrive in Minsk
on 2 February. The mission will discuss granting a badly
needed $100 million loan to Belarus. PB

WORLD BANK PRAISES LATVIAN EFFORTS TO FIGHT CORRUPTION.
Experts from the World Bank have praised Latvia's
efforts to clamp down on corruption, BNS reported on 1
February. At a meeting with Prime Minister Vilis
Kristopans, they praised Latvia's anti-corruption
program and the work of the Corruption Elimination
Council. They also discussed Kristopans's proposal that
World Bank experts assist in the drafting of a new anti-
corruption law. Last fall, the World Bank released a
survey showing that corruption in Latvia remains
widespread (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998). JC

VILNIUS ASKS MOSCOW TO EXPLAIN CRUDE OIL STOPPAGE. The
Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has handed a diplomatic note
to the Russian ambassador in Vilnius asking for an
explanation as to why Russian supplies of crude oil have
been halted. Lithuania's oil refinery Mazeikiai Nafta
ceased operations on 30 January after crude deliveries
had ceased. The government believes that LUKoil, which
coordinates supplies of crude to Lithuania, and "some
official Russian institutions" may be blocking those
deliveries in a bid to put pressure on Vilnius over the
privatization of the refinery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1
February 1999). A spokesman for Prime Minister Gediminas
Vagnorius said that Mazeikiai Nafta needs at least 1.5
million tons of crude each quarter and has signed long-
term contracts with Russia for those supplies. According
to ELTA, the refinery is losing more than 1 million
litas (some $250 million) a day owing to the stoppage.
JC

EUROSKEPTICS FOUND PARTY IN LITHUANIA. The Lithuanian
National Democratic Party held its founding congress in
Vilnius on 30 January, ELTA reported. Parliamentary
deputy Rimantas Smetona was elected chairman of the
party, which is opposed to Lithuania joining the EU and
intends to pursue a policy of "moderate nationalism."
ELTA quoted "Leituvos Rytas" as commenting that the new
group would welcome Lithuanian membership in NATO as a
means of preserving Lithuanian sovereignty. JC

LANDSBERGIS IN BEIJING. Lithuanian parliamentary
chairman Vytautas Landsbergis met with Chinese Deputy
Prime Minister Qian Qichen and Foreign Minister Tang
Jiaxuan in Beijing on 1 February, ELTA reported. At both
meetings, Landsbergis stressed that Vilnius would like
to develop relations with China, especially in the
spheres of trade and investment. Qian asserted there are
no barriers to strengthening bilateral relations, noting
that Lithuanian and Chinese interests have never
clashed. JC

POLISH GOVERNMENT READY TO TALK TO FARMERS. Prime
Minister Jerzy Buzek said on 1 February that he is eager
to negotiate with striking farmers who have set up
roadblocks throughout the country, PAP reported. Buzek,
speaking after a meeting with government officials to
discuss the issue, said he has four new proposals for
the farmers, but he did not elaborate. Farmers are
asking the government to purchase more agricultural
products, declare an amnesty for protesters, and write
off farmers' debts. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz
said after the meeting that the government could no
longer afford to tolerate the lawbreaking actions of the
farmers. Some 25 main roads and many smaller ones are
still being blockaded. Anesthetists are also on strike,
and the Health Ministry said about 40 percent of the
country's hospitals are lacking anesthetists, hundreds
of whom quit on 1 February to protest low wages. PB

POLAND NOT IGNORING RUSSIA. The Polish Foreign Ministry
said on 1 February that it does not want to alienate
Moscow as it prepares for NATO membership, AFP reported.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski said
Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek does not want to
"build a wall" between itself and Russia as it joins
Western organizations. Geremek has invited Russian
Premier Yevgenii Primakov to visit Warsaw this year. PB

CZECH GOVERNMENT REPORTS ON 'SICK COUNTRY'... The
cabinet on 1 February completed a report on the state of
the country, which it described as "sick" but not beyond
hope, "Lidove noviny" reported. The study noted that the
chief sources of problems are the lack of a complete
legal framework for the transformation from communism,
difficulties in enforcing laws, a high incidence of
economic crime, the effects of the "failed attempt" at
coupon privatization, and the increase in illicitly
gained wealth relative to that acquired "by hard work."
The study also concluded that the economy must grow by 5
percent annually if it is to reach EU levels. PM

...RULES THAT CHURCH HAS NO CLAIM TO ASSETS. Also on 1
February, the cabinet announced that the Roman Catholic
Church has no legal claim to the restitution of any
assets because it had not owned those assets in the
first place. The government declared unconstitutional a
1996 ruling by Vaclav Klaus's cabinet that returned 700
properties to the Church. The government also proposed a
package of five bills defining the legal status of
soldiers and of the armed forces. The measures are
slated to take effect on 1 October and will bring Czech
legislation into line with NATO member countries'
legislation. Military service will remain compulsory,
"Mlada fronta dnes" reported. PM

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT WANTS TO INVESTIGATE MECIAR-ERA
OFFICIALS. Interior Ministry officials told a press
conference in Bratislava on 1 February that they want
the parliament to lift two deputies' immunity so that
the ministry can "take legal action against" them for
crimes they allegedly committed as high-ranking
officials under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.
The officials said that they want to investigate former
secret service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa for his role in the
still unresolved 1995 kidnapping of the son of President
Michal Kovac. The ministry also wants to look into
former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci's "abuse of
power" in regard to the 1997 referendum on NATO
membership and direct elections to the presidency. The
spokesmen added that they can "neither confirm nor
exclude the possibility" that the ministry will
investigate Meciar. Also on 1 February, police arrested
two former SIS officials for alleged abuse of their
positions, "Sme" reported. PM

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

BELGRADE APPEALS TO UN. The state-run news agency Tanjug
carried a statement by the Yugoslav government on 1
February calling on the UN Security Council to prevent
NATO from carrying out possible air strikes against
Serbia. The government argued that "NATO's open threats
jeopardize the chief principles of international
relations, international peace and security, and the
very foundations of international legal order. This is
why the federal cabinet decided to call for a UN
Security Council session to take adequate measures...to
prevent armed aggression against the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia." Reuters quoted political analysts in
Belgrade as saying that the government of President
Slobodan Milosevic issued the appeal in order to "make a
mess, to buy some time." The Contact Group has set a 6
February deadline for Belgrade and the Kosovars to reply
to its ultimatum to attend talks or face military
action. The Security Council has endorsed the Contact
Group's position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February
1999). PM

SERBS, UCK DELAY RESPONSE TO ULTIMATUM. Serbian Deputy
Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj said in Belgrade on 1
February that only the parliament, which meets on 4
February, has the authority to respond to the Contact
Group. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic
charged that "NATO is the weapon in the hands of one or
two states, to whom the [NATO member states] are
bowing." Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic
argued that Serbia runs the risk of increased
international isolation if it rejects the ultimatum. In
Prishtina, Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman
for the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said that the
guerrillas will respond to the Contact Group on 3
February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.
Nationalist politician Rexhep Qosja has agreed to attend
the talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). PM

HILL WARNS OF 'MAXIMUM STRAIN.' U.S. envoy for Kosova
Chris Hill told Reuters in Prishtina on 2 February that
the coming days and weeks are "going to be a period of
maximum strain" regarding the crisis in Kosova. "There
will be people on the ground trying to disrupt the
talks. There has [also] been considerable concern,
especially among the Europeans, about whether we have
sufficient leverage on the [guerrillas], and there's
been a lot of effort made to try to figure out what that
leverage might be. Obviously it's going to be different
from the leverage on the Serbs, and appropriately so.
The Serbs have been threatened with punitive air
strikes, and obviously that's not in the cards for the
[UCK]. Other things can be done. Enough said." Hill
nonetheless added: "I never like to use 'optimism' and
'Balkans' in the same sentence, but I believe we have a
very good process ahead." PM

CLINTON MEETS ADVISERS OVER KOSOVA. U.S. President Bill
Clinton discussed Kosova with his top political and
military advisers on 1 February. White House officials
gave no comment as to whether Clinton and his aides
decided whether to commit U.S. ground troops as part of
an eventual settlement in the province. Secretary of
Defense William Cohen, who opposes deployment, said that
a final decision will depend on the final settlement and
on the role that the European allies are willing to
assume for themselves. He stressed that the Europeans
must "bear a substantial burden" of any military
presence on the ground. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright's spokesman said that "there is a need and an
urgency for American leadership and determination" in
Kosova. He added that the U.S. has "significant national
interests at stake" in ending the crisis. PM

ANNAN WARNS OF SPREADING CONFLICT. NATO Secretary-
General Javier Solana noted in Berlin on 1 February that
up to 30,000 ground troops might be required as part of
an eventual settlement, the BBC's Serbian Service
reported. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
said in a report to the Security Council that the Kosova
conflict could become "an all-out civil war...that might
have unpredictable repercussions" across the Balkans. PM

CROATIA FREES NADA SAKIC. State Attorney Radovan Santek
said in Zagreb on 1 February that he has stopped
proceedings against 76-year-old Nada Sakic for war
crimes in connection with her activities at
concentration camps run by the pro-Axis Ustasha regime
during World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November
1998). He said that none of the 26 witnesses who have
testified against her during the past three months could
prove the charges against her. Sakic told reporters as
she left prison that "justice has won." Serbian and
Jewish spokesmen said her release proves that the
Croatian government is not serious about prosecuting
Ustasha war criminals. Sakic was extradited in November
from Argentina, where she and her husband had lived
since the end of World War II. Dinko Sakic still faces
trial for war crimes in Croatia, to which Argentina
extradited him last June. PM

ALBANIAN PYRAMID MONEY IN SWISS BANKS. Albanian anti-
mafia investigator Bujar Himci told "Shekulli" on 2
February that the Swiss authorities have discovered bank
accounts belonging to the Albanian pyramid scheme owner
Vehbi Alimucaj. Himci did not say how much is in the
accounts but noted that the Swiss authorities last week
handed over "a large file...that sheds light on
Alimucaj's activities and transfers." He also commented
that Ajdin Sejdia, a Kosovar Albanian businessman, was
involved in Alimucaj's money laundering schemes. German
police arrested Sejdia in November 1998 under a Swiss
arrest warrant. A Swiss court had earlier sentenced
Sejdia in absentia for fraud in connection with a failed
hotel project in central Tirana. The construction of
that hotel, which began in 1991, resulted only in a huge
crater, which locals say epitomizes shady Kosovar
business practices. FS

ROUND-TABLE IN SOUTHERN ALBANIAN REBEL TOWN. Deputy
Minister for Local Government Taulant Dedja and OSCE
Ambassador to Albania Daan Everts met with local
officials in Lazarat on 1 February to discuss problems
in developing infrastructure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25
January 1999). Everts told "Koha Jone" of 2 February
that he is "quite convinced" that the government is
resolved to bring the town out of its isolation. Everts
stressed the need to install telephones and improve
water supply there. Local residents have repeatedly
blocked the road linking Gjirokastra with Greece and
have held up and robbed trucks. The town, which is a
stronghold of the Democratic Party, became a no-go area
for police last year following several armed clashes. FS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR BETTER PROTECTION FOR
THOSE LAID OFF. On the first day of the parliament's new
session, 56 deputies from the Party of Social Democracy
in Romania, the main opposition force, moved a non-
binding motion calling for improved social protection
for employees laid off because of industrial
restructuring, Romanian media reported on 1 February. A
spokesman for the party singled out the case of the Jiu
Valley miners. In a separate development, the Hunedoara
County court has retroactively declared the miners'
strike from 4-22 January "illegal." It noted that the
coal company could ask for damages. DI

NO END TO ROMANIAN ECONOMIC WOES. According to data
released by the National Statistical Board on 1
February, industrial production dropped by 17 percent in
1998 compared with the previous year. Grain production
sank by slightly more than 30 percent. Inflation in
December 1998 was up 40.6 percent on the December 1997
level. At the end of last year, the trade deficit
exceeded $3 billion, while unemployment reached a new
peak of some 1.3 million (10.3 percent of the work
force). The average net wage in December 1998 was 1.36
million lei (some $115). DI

MOLDOVAN OFFICIAL DIFFER OVER REASONS FOR CABINET
CRISIS. Premier Ion Ciubuc, who handed in his
resignation on 1 February, said he was unable to
consolidate his cabinet because of its diverse
composition. But one of the leaders of the Democratic
Convention of Moldova, Iurie Rosca, said that the
cabinet's malfunctioning had been the result of Ciubuc's
"incompetence." The same day, President Petru Lucinschi
announced that he has started consultations on
appointing a new premier and hopes that the new cabinet
can be formed in the next two weeks. The leader of the
Party of Moldovan Communists, Vladimir Voronin, said his
party is willing to participate in the new government
provided it is based on "communist principles." DI

GAZPROM HALVES GAS DELIVERIES TO MOLDOVA. The Russian
natural gas monopoly Gazprom has carried out its threats
to halve its deliveries to Moldova because of the
country's large debts to the company. According to the
Flux agency on 1 February, that debt had reached $439
million by the beginning of the year, of which $304
million were owed by the Transdniester. Gazprom has
insisted on hard currency payments and refused to accept
Moldovan state bonds instead. DI

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