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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 24, Part II, 4 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 24, Part II, 4 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 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * POLISH GOVERNMENT, FARMERS DRIFT FURTHER APART * MILOSEVIC'S PARTY BACKS PEACE CONFERENCE * ALBRIGHT GIVES BACKING TO MAJKO, GEORGIEVSKI xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SLAVIC UNION DANGEROUS. Borys Tarasyuk said on 3 February that Ukraine is not interested in any kind of Slavic union with Russia and Belarus, an RFE/RL correspondent reported in London. Tarasyuk said any attempt to build a country on the basis of ethnicity is doomed to fail, particularly because Russia is a multinational, multiethnic country. He said Kyiv thinks the idea is "very dangerous, and the example of the former Yugoslavia is a warning for all of us." With regard to Chornobyl, Tarasyuk called on the EU and G-7 countries to adhere to a 1995 commitment to provide financial aid to help close down the nuclear power station by 2000. He said the EU and G-7's failure to do so "worries us." PB UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WANTS TO KEEP DEATH PENALTY. Oleksandr Tkachenko said the parliament will debate a ban on capital punishment in the coming months, even though he is personally opposed to its abolition, AP reported on 3 February. Tkachenko argued that too many Ukrainians favor the death penalty, particularly as the trial of Anatoliy Onoprienko--accused of killing 52 people--continues. The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly recently reminded Kyiv of its 1995 commitment to ban the death penalty. President Leonid Kuchma has decreed a moratorium on the practice. PB UKRAINIANS DELINQUENT ON UTILITY PAYMENTS. Government officials said on 3 February that more than one-third of all housing and utility bills in 1998 were unpaid, AP reported. The State Statistics Committee said the debt for unpaid services reached 3.48 billion hryvni ($1 billion) as of 10 January, up from 2.49 billion hryvni the previous year. The committee also reported that inflation in January was 1.5 percent, down from 3.3 percent in December. The government has forecast a 19.1 percent rate for this year, compared with 20 percent in 1998. PB FARMERS' DEBTS IN BELARUS NEARLY DOUBLE. Deputy Prime Minister Alyaksandr Popkou said on 3 February that he blames government price controls for a huge increase in the total debt of the agricultural sector, Belapan reported. The debts of Belarusian agricultural enterprises totaled some 65 trillion rubles ($22.8 million at the unofficial rate of exchange) at the beginning of this year, nearly double the 35 trillion ruble debt of one year ago. Popkov said a radical change in the state's pricing policy is needed for Belarus to make a financial and economic recovery. He added that the implementation of a long-term agricultural policy aimed at supporting large farms, encouraging the use of new technologies, upgrading farm equipment, and reforming farm collectives will increase agricultural production to the country's 1991 level within two years. PB DO RUSSIANS VIEW UNION WITH BELARUS AS 'ABSORPTION?' Sergei Karaganov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that the most "enlightened" Russian advocates of integration with Belarus view it as an "absorption" of that country, Belapan reported. Karaganov, in an interview in the weekly "Belorusskiy Rynok," said such a view frightened Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and other Belarusian officials and prevented them from creating a real union with Moscow. Karaganov said he thinks Russian President Boris Yeltsin has pushed for a union with Minsk to lessen his "historic guilt" for destroying the Soviet Union. PB ESTONIAN PREMIER APPROVES THIS YEAR'S PRIVATIZATION PLANS. Mart Siimann on 3 February approved Estonia's privatization plans for this year, ETA reported. Government spokesman Daniel Vaarik told the news agency the state will sell 51 percent of shares in the alcohol producer Liviko and in the Narva Power Grid. It also plans to sell all state shares in the railway operator Edelaraudtee as well as stakes in subsidiaries of the main railway operator Eesti Raudtee. In addition, the privatization of the Moe Distillery and gas distributor Eesti Gaas will be completed. Also on 3 February, a Uhispank representative announced that the Eesti Telekom tender, which was launched on 25 January, is already oversubscribed. JC LATVIAN PREMIER, SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Vilis Kristopans and Egils Baldzens, the head of the Latvian Social Democratic Union caucus, have signed an agreement on cooperation aimed at achieving the main objectives of the government declaration, LETA and BNS reported on 3 February. Under that agreement, the Social Democrats will assume responsibility for the agricultural sector and will neither vote against nor abstain from voting on any government-proposed bills that are supported by the Coalition Council. They also agree not to submit to the parliament any bills related to the state budget without the Coalition Council's prior agreement, nor will they support opposition- proposed bills on the budget or taxes. Baldzens expressed satisfaction that the accord includes several provisions important to the Social Democrats, singling out the increase of the education and research budget to 8 percent of GDP within four years. JC PIPELINE REPAIRS TO BLAME FOR HALT IN CRUDE SUPPLIES TO LITHUANIA? Speaking at a press conference on 3 February, Lithuanian Economy Minister Vincas Babilius said that according to information he has received from Moscow, one of the reasons for the stoppage of crude oil supplies to Lithuania may be repairs to pipelines in Belarus that began on 1 February, ELTA reported. He said he has asked the Belarusian ambassador for an official explanation, adding that due warning should have been given if such repairs are under way. Supplies of crude to the Mazeikiai Nafta refinery were cut on the weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 1999). Both the Russian government and LUKoil have denied ordering supplies halted. Meanwhile, the Russian news agency RIA, citing "well-informed sources from the Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry," reported that LUKoil and Mazeikiai Nafta representatives meeting in Moscow on 3 February were unable to agree on Russian crude oil prices. JC LITHUANIAN JOURNALISTS UNION DOES NOT SUPPORT 'BALTIC WAVES' PROJECT. The Lithuanian Journalists Union has said it does not support the planned launch of broadcasts for the Belarusian and Russian national minorities in Lithuania that would be heard on short- wave in Kaliningrad Oblast, Belarus, and all three Baltic States, ELTA reported on 3 February. The statement follows the announcement that the Baltic Waves project has received funding worth some $50,000 from the British Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Among other things, the journalists expressed fear that the setting up of a "Belarus-oriented" radio station on Lithuanian territory might "cause problems in international and bilateral ties." JC POLISH GOVERNMENT, FARMERS DRIFT FURTHER APART. The Polish government on 3 February said it will not negotiate with protesting farmers until they dismantle roadblocks they have set up around the country, Reuters reported. Farmers, for their part, made new demands and increased the number of roadblocks to more than 200, including at a border crossing with Ukraine. Andrzej Lepper, the leader of the Self Defense farmers' group, who broke off talks with the government the previous day, added new conditions for meeting with government officials, namely, airtime on public television, a live debate with a leading politician, and the addition of an official from the junior member of the ruling coalition, the Freedom Union, to the government's negotiating team. The government said it will approve a restructuring program for the agriculture sector on 4 February, without input from farmers' groups. PB DUTCH FOREIGN MINISTER SEES POLAND'S EU ENTRY IN SEVERAL YEARS. Jozias van Aartsen said in Warsaw on 3 February that Poland should join the EU in 2002 or 2003, PAP reported. Van Aartsen, who is in Poland for a two-day visit, said setting a tentative date for EU expansion is important both for the applying countries and the EU, as it could accelerate its internal reforms. Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowski said he is glad that Van Aartsen shares Warsaw's position that it could be ready for EU membership by 2002. PB HAVEL, VLK CHALLENGE GOVERNMENT OVER CHURCH PROPERTY. Czech President Vaclav Havel and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk told reporters in Prague on 3 February that a recent study by legal scholars at Charles University on the property of the Roman Catholic Church does not contain the conclusions that the government says it does. The government recently decided on the basis of that report that the Church does not have legal claim to any property under restitution laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). Vlk added that he is glad that the study transformed the discussion about Church property from one about politics to one about law. Havel said he wants the question to be cleared up through legislation, not in the courts. He added that he will work to promote reconciliation between the government and the Church. He also recommended that the government's commission on Church-state relations be reconstituted to exclude politicians and include only experts, "Lidove noviny" reported. PM CZECH PARLIAMENT SAYS ONLY CITIZENS CAN CLAIM PROPERTY. The legislature on 3 February voted down a proposal to allow persons who are not Czech citizens to claim property under restitution laws. Opponents of the bill said it would only create new injustices by opening disputes within families as to who is the rightful claimant, Radio Svobodna Evropa reported. PM LEXA TO FILE SUIT OVER ARRESTS IN KOVAC CASE. Former Slovak Interior Minister Ivan Lexa said in Bratislava on 3 February that he will press charges against an unnamed person in conjunction with the arrest of two former intelligence agency officials earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). He repeated his long-standing claim that he had nothing to do with the 1995 kidnapping of the son of President Michal Kovac. Lexa told the daily "Sme" that the government will be able to lift his parliamentary immunity over the Kovac affair or the immunity of any other legislator it chooses to prosecute because it has the necessary votes in the legislature. In a veiled threat, he added that "the real question is what will happen in two or four years." Lexa charged that "Sme" is taking part in a government-backed campaign to frame him and his former subordinates. He said he intends to prove that accusation soon. PM SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE MILOSEVIC'S PARTY BACKS PEACE CONFERENCE. Gorica Gajevic, who is secretary-general of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, told the parliament on 4 February that the party "thinks that we should show that we are fighting for peace and to defend" Serbia's claim to Kosova wherever the future of the province is discussed, AP reported. The legislature is expected to vote later in the day on whether to attend the Rambouillet talks, which are to begin on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1999). In New York, the UN Security Council on 3 February discussed the situation in Kosova but did not take up Belgrade's appeal for the UN to stop NATO from launching air strikes against Serbian targets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). PM SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH WANTS ROLE IN TALKS. Patriarch Pavle appealed to the French government on 3 February to include the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Rambouillet negotiations as an observer. Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren and his spokesman Father Sava would represent the Church, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Artemije stressed that the Serbs of Kosova do not trust Milosevic to represent their interests (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 January 1999). PM UCK NAMES DELEGATION. The General Staff of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) has named Rama Buja, Jakup Krasniqi, Hashim Thaci, Azem Syla, and Xhavit Haliti to represent it at Rambouillet, Krasniqi told the VOA's Albanian Service on 3 February. The moderate shadow state will be represented by Ibrahim Rugova, Fehmi Agani, Bujar Bukoshi, Idriz Aeti, and Edita Tahiri, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Mark Krasniqi, Veton Surroi, and Blerim Shala will attend as independents. PM U.S. GROUND TROOPS FOR KOSOVA? Secretary of Defense William Cohen told Congress on 3 February that the U.S. may send a "relatively small" ground force to Kosova in order to reassure other NATO participants in that force that "they would not be attacked" by Serbian army or paramilitary police units. He stressed that there must first be "a real agreement" on the political future of the province before the Pentagon will send an armed force there. Cohen suggested that the troops might stay up to five years. General Henry Shelton, who heads the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that a maximum of 2,000- 4,000 U.S. troops might be required if NATO decides on an overall force of 20,000-30,000. He added that the Atlantic alliance is still discussing the number of troops it might send to Kosova. The Pentagon has previously been opposed to sending any U.S. ground troops to Kosova. PM ALBRIGHT GIVES BACKING TO MAJKO... Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko on 3 February that the U.S. supports Albania's territorial integrity. Asked by Reuters if "this meant that the U.S. would not let Albania's borders be breached, he replied: 'Yes, this was the bottom line.'" Majko said that he is confident that the Kosovar leaders are patriots who will sink their differences and present a united front at the upcoming negotiations at Rambouillet. He added of the Kosovars: "They are not terrorists." Majko stressed that "those bloody massacres in Kosova" must end. Other top State Department officials pledged financial aid for the Albanian army and customs service, "Shekulli" reported. At the World Bank, Majko signed an agreement on a $9 million loan to improve infrastructure. He told Reuters he will soon sign an agreement with the U.S. firm New World Telecom, which will invest $325 million to modernize Albania's antiquated telecommunications system. PM/FS ...AND TO GEORGIEVSKI. In a separate meeting, Albright told Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski that the U.S. supports his efforts at promoting a free-market economy, a "Western orientation," and improved inter- ethnic relations. Her spokesman, James Rubin, added that Albright "reiterated our appreciation of the [Macedonian] government's firm support of our efforts to bring stability [to Kosova], including the agreement to host the NATO extraction force." Rubin stressed that the U.S. will oppose any attempt by China to link Macedonia's recognition of Taiwan with extending the mandate of the UN peace-keeping force in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1999). It is unclear whether Majko and Georgievski met or spoke with U.S. officials together. Macedonia and Albania will play key roles in any settlement in Kosova. PM POPLASEN NAMES THIRD CANDIDATE TO HEAD GOVERNMENT. Republika Srpska President Nikola Poplasen on 3 February nominated parliamentary speaker Petar Djokic to head the government. It is unclear whether Djokic, whose Socialist Party is not allied to the nationalist Poplasen, will accept, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Poplasen's two previous nominees were unable to command a majority in the parliament, where Poplasen's supporters are in a minority. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, the joint parliament elected Svetozar Mihajlovic, who is a Serb, and re-elected Haris Silajdzic, who is a Muslim, as co-prime ministers. PM CROATIA WANTS TO OPEN ROAD TO REPUBLIKA SRPSKA. Deputy Foreign Minister Josko Paro said that Croatia has been waiting for a month for the Bosnian joint authorities to respond to Zagreb's offer to re-open the road linking Dubrovnik with Trebinje, in eastern Herzegovina, "Vecernji list" reported on 4 February. Paro added that he finds it difficult to understand the lack of a reply, because the opening of the frontier would benefit the Bosnian Serbs more than it would Croatia. PM CROATIA DENIES REPORTS OF JOINT TANK PRODUCTION. Defense Minister Pavao Miljac said his country will not jointly produce M-84 tanks with Serbia, Bosnia, or Slovenia, "Vecernji list" reported on 4 February. There has been repeated speculation in the media since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 that the successor states might continue to produce arms jointly in order to earn hard currency. Miljac confirmed that Croatia will purchase Mi-8 helicopters from Russia and that Israeli experts will help modernize Croatia's aging MiG 21s. PM INVESTIGATION INTO FORMER ALBANIAN LEGISLATOR CLOSED. Spokesmen for the Prosecutor-General 's Office announced in Tirana on 3 February that the investigation into former Democratic Alliance Deputy Ridvan Peshkepia, who allegedly organized a drug smuggling network to Italy between 1993-1996, has been closed, "Shekulli" reported. The investigators concluded that another person ran the network and used Peshkepia's diplomatic passport, which he lost in 1992. Journalists who asked not to be identified told an RFE/RL correspondent that the ring- leader is a well-known personality and the brother of a prominent politician. They did not elaborate. FS ROMANIAN PRESIDENT OUTLINES PLAN TO MODERNIZE INFRASTRUCTURE. Addressing a conference on upgrading the country's infrastructure, Emil Constantinescu on 3 February said Romania should prepare to act as an economic corridor between Central Asia and Europe, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported. He pleaded in favor of modernizing roads and communication networks, building new oil pipelines, and expanding the country's oil refining capacities. Constantinescu's optimism, however, was in stark contrast to the country's latest economic performance. The same day, the National Bank fixed the exchange rate for the dollar at slightly more than 12,000 lei. The national currency thus overstepped a new "psychological threshold," after crossing the 10,000 lei barrier on 24 November 1998 and the 11,000 one on 4 January 1999. Since the beginning of this year, the leu has lost almost 10 percent of its value. DI MINERS' LEADER SAYS HE WILL SNUB JUSTICE. Miron Cozma, the controversial leader of the Jiu Valley miners, who has led several miners' marches on Bucharest since 1990, told a press conference on 3 February that he will not present himself at any court or submit himself to any criminal investigation as long as justice continues to be "politically manipulated by Bucharest." Cozma noted that several cases have been opened against him following the 18-22 January march, which came to a halt after an agreement had been reached with Premier Radu Vasile at the Cozia monastery. Meanwhile, General Gheorghe Lupu has denied any responsibility for the failure of the police to stop the miners' latest protest action. He blamed the deputy prefect of Gorj County for having ordered the withdrawal of officers from the Jiu Valley. DI MOLDOVAN PARTY THREATENS TO LEAVE RULING COALITION. The chairman of the Party for Revival and Conciliation in Moldova, Mircea Snegur, said on 3 February that his party will leave the Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM) if the latter continues to refuse to designate Nicolae Andronic as the country's future premier, an RFE correspondent in Chisinau reported. But the next day, however, Snegur softened that stance, expressing optimism about the future of the CDM and the ruling coalition, known as the Alliance for Democracy and Reforms. The same day, President Petru Lucinschi continued separate consultations with parliamentary leaders over nominating a new premier. DI RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BULGARIA. During his visit to Sofia on 2-3 February, Igor Ivanov met with his Bulgarian counterpart, Nadezhda Mihailova, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, parliamentary chairman Yordan Sokolov, and President Petar Stoyanov, whom he gave personal messages from President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov's talks with Mihailova focused on bilateral relations, economic issues, including the repayment of mutual debts, the situation in the Balkans, and Kosova. Ivanov told journalists on 3 February that Moscow has decided to extend customs concessions to Bulgaria, noting the need to overcome the downturn in bilateral relations in recent years. Ivanov denied that the issue of NATO membership, to which Bulgaria aspires, was discussed. 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