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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 36, Part II, 22 February 1999
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 3, No. 36, Part II, 22 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 * UKRAINE ISSUES WARRANT FOR LAZARENKO'S ARREST * KLAUS CALLS FOR RECONCILIATION WITH FORMER ODS DISSIDENTS * YUGOSLAV ARMY VOWS TO FIGHT, INCLUDING IN MONTENEGRO * End Note: BROKEN NUCLEAR PROMISES COULD JEOPARDIZE EU MEMBERSHIP CHANCES FOR BULGARIA, LITHUANIA xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINE ISSUES WARRANT FOR LAZARENKO'S ARREST. Following the Supreme Council's decision to strip former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko of his parliamentary immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1999), Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko has issued a warrant for Lazarenko's arrest, AP reported on 20 February. Lazarenko is suspected of stealing $2 million in state funds and stashing some $4 million in a Swiss bank. Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko said that Lazarenko is currently in the U.S., to where he wants to emigrate. Reuters reported the next day that Ukraine has asked the U.S. to extradite Lazarenko after he was reportedly detained at New York's Kennedy airport. JM ALBRIGHT RECOMMENDS $195 MILLION AID TO UKRAINE. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the U.S. Congress on 18 February that Ukraine has made "significant progress" in carrying out its economic reforms to warrant the release of $195 million in aid this year. Congress had intended that sum to be issued earlier but had made its release conditional on Albright's positive assessment of Ukraine's reform process and its efforts to deal with complaints by U.S. investors. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma welcomed the U.S. decision, saying that Washington "understands the role of Ukraine in the region" and that the U.S.-Ukrainian "strategic partnership was not declared for the sake of empty words alone," AP reported. JM UKRAINE'S ENERGY SECTOR OFFICIALS FIRED. Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 19 February sacked Nur Nihmatullin, head of the Enerhoatom nuclear energy company, for "serious drawbacks in work," Reuters reported. The dismissal followed a protest the previous day by nuclear plant workers over wage arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999). One week earlier, President Leonid Kuchma sacked Energy Minister Oleksiy Sheberstov after farmers had criticized the minister for massive blackouts in rural regions this winter. In other news, 31 protesting coal miners in Luhansk Oblast received a pledge that their back wages will paid. The promise comes after nine protesters had threatened to commit suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 1999). JM LUKASHENKA DENOUNCES EU FOR 'NIGGLING' COMPENSATION DEMANDS. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 February criticized EU countries for making "niggling" demands for financial compensation over the eviction of EU ambassadors from their residences at the Drazdy housing compound, AP reported. "How dare such great powers bring financial claims of a meager hundred of thousand dollars against a country that suffered from the Chornobyl catastrophe?" the agency quoted Lukashenka as saying. Under the EU-Belarusian agreement reached late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998), the evicted EU ambassadors returned to Belarus in January to move to new residences, while Belarus has pledged to pay compensation. JM BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SETS UP COORDINATION BODY. Under a resolution passed by the Congress of Democratic Forces last month, the Belarusian opposition has formed a Consultative and Coordination Council of Democratic Forces to unify all democratic opposition organizations, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 19 February. The council is composed of Henadz Karpenka, the organizer of the congress, and representatives of Belarus's six most influential opposition organizations: the Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party "Narodnaya Hramada," the Independent Trade Unions, the Assembly of Belarusian NGOs, and the civic initiative "Charter-97." JM EMBEZZLEMENT CHARGE AGAINST ESTONIA'S KALLAS DROPPED. In the trial over the failed fuel deal with Swiss company Paradiso SAL, the prosecution has dropped the charge of intended embezzlement against Reform Party leader and former Bank of Estonia President Siim Kallas, ETA reported on 22 February. Kallas, however, still faces charges of abuse of power and giving false information to auditors. The prosecution argues that the Bank of Estonia was responsible for the failed deal, which had been expected to yield interest totaling some 107 million kroons ($8.2 million), and that Kallas violated the bank's regulations on investing gold and foreign currency reserves. JC FOUR QUIT ESTONIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ROUND TABLE ON ETHNIC MINORITIES. Four members of the presidential roundtable on ethnic minorities have resigned, saying that lawmakers ignored the roundtable's views by approving amendments to, among others, the election and language laws, ETA reported on 19 February. The four, who are ethnic Russians from the Center Party and the United People's Party, also criticized President Lennart Meri for failing to uphold the roundtable's recommendations by making use of his veto power. "Postimees" commented that while the move can be interpreted as part of the election campaign, the 21-strong, consultative roundtable will "lose its meaning" with the departure of its Russian- speaking members. JC MOODY'S GRANTS ESTONIA NEW DOMESTIC CURRENCY ISSUER RATING. Moody's Investors Service Inc. has granted Estonia an A1 issuer rating for domestic currency obligations, ETA and BNS reported on 19 February. The rating reflects a very small domestic currency debt (less than 2 percent of GDP) and a tight fiscal stance, Moody's said. The agency's issuer ratings is based on its assessment of the issuer's ability to meet its obligations. JC ABDULATIPOV TO BECOME CO-CHAIR OF LATVIAN-RUSSIAN COMMISSION. Russian National Minorities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov told BNS on 19 February that he has accepted an offer by the Russian Foreign Minister to become co-chairman of the Latvian-Russian intergovernmental commission. Abdulatipov added that he expects to be appointed to that post "in the next few days." The commission has not convened for one year because of Moscow's failure to appoint a new co-chairman of the commission. JC POLAND TO SUPPORT VILNIUS'S NATO BID. Visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski assured his Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, on 19 February that once it becomes a member of NATO, Poland will lobby for the membership of neighboring Lithuania in the alliance, ELTA reported. Kwasniewski said that the three new NATO members-- Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic--will make clear their position on NATO's "open-door" policy at the Washington summit in April. "Warsaw thinks that [there] should be a concrete statement on the continuity of the alliance's enlargement to include the Baltic countries or at least one of them," Kwasniewski said. JC POLAND'S HEALTH-CARE STRIKE SMALLER THAN EXPECTED. The general strike by health-care workers launched on 19 February is "smaller in scale and not as troublesome for patients as was feared," Polish Radio reported. "Some 20 percent of hospitals took part in the strike," PAP quoted a health-care trade union leader as saying. Talks between the strike organizer--the Health Service Reform Protection Committee-- and the government have ended in a "provisional agreement," Polish Radio reported on 20 February, without giving further details. The strike is intended to last until 23 February, when health service trade unionists are to meet to decide whether to continue the action. JM KLAUS CALLS FOR RECONCILIATION WITH FORMER ODS DISSIDENTS. Vaclav Klaus, chairman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), has called on members of the Freedom Union to consider "more accommodating relations" between the two parties in order to "stop the unfortunate socialist experiment," CTK reported on 19 February. Klaus was addressing the National Assembly of the Freedom Union, a party that was set up by former ODS dissidents last year. Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml said in response that Klaus's appeal was a "sign of good will" that will make possible future talks between the two formations. He added that Klaus's presence at the union's assembly marks "a significant turning point," noting that the two parties' positions are "similar on many issues" and that he expects them to "gradually" cooperate in the legislature and in local government. MS MECIAR DENIES SIS DEFAMED CZECH REPUBLIC. In a 19 February letter to Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, former Premier Vladimir Meciar wrote that "I swear on my honor and conscience" that neither the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) nor any other government body or member of the Meciar cabinet ever tried to damage the Czech Republic's chances of gaining entry to NATO, CTK reported. He said the report delivered at a closed session of the parliament by the new SIS head, Vladimir Mitro, was "full of deliberate lies" and an "attempt to win the political support of some Czech political circles." MS SLOVAKIA'S FIRST ASTRONAUT DEPARTS FOR 'MIR.' Ivan Bella became Slovakia's first-ever astronaut on 20 February, when he took off on a Soyuz-TM spacecraft from Baykonur, Kazakhstan, CTK reported. Bella is a member of a Russian- French-Slovak team that is to work on the "Mir" space station. An agreement on Slovak participation in the flight was signed during Meciar's visit to Moscow in May 1998. The cost of having Bella take part in the flight is to be deducted from Russia's $20 million debt to Slovakia, CTK reported. MS 'HUNGARIAN-HUNGARIAN' DIALOGUE TO HAVE INSTITUTIONALIZED FRAMEWORK. Representatives of Hungarian parliamentary parties and ethnic Hungarian organizations abroad agreed in Budapest on 20 February to set up the Hungarian Permanent Conference. That body will serve as an institutionalized forum to maintain dialogue between Hungary and Hungarians abroad. Participants in the meeting signed a statement drawing the international community's attention to the "unfairness" of neglecting the interests of Vojvodina's Hungarians in proposals on settling the Yugoslav crisis. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told the gathering that while millions of ethnic Hungarians living outside the country will be helped by Hungary's accession to EU and NATO, they will not be granted dual citizenship. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE YUGOSLAV ARMY VOWS TO FIGHT... General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who is chief of the General Staff, told officers in Belgrade on 21 February that "if we lose [Kosova], we'll lose Serbia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and our freedom, which is most sacred to us." He added that he hopes that negotiators can reach a "peaceful, political settlement" at the Rambouillet talks, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The general stressed, however, that the army is prepared to fight if unnamed foreign powers attach to any treaty what he called "unacceptable" conditions, such as the stationing of foreign troops in the province. Ojdanic pointed out that the army is prepared to "respond to force with force" if foreign troops arrive in Kosova. PM ŠINCLUDING IN MONTENEGRO. The Montenegrin government said in a statement on 20 February that it will not allow the Yugoslav military to use Montenegrin territory for "actions against the NATO alliance," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The statement added that the government's "duty is to protect its citizens." The following day, top officials of the Second Army Command and the Navy said in a statement in the Montenegrin capital that the government's decision is "unconstitutional and damaging to national defense." The statement added that "units of the Second Army and the Navy will decisively and professionally carry out all tasks in defense against aggression and in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." PM ALBRIGHT RETURNS TO RAMBOUILLET. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright again sought to break the deadlock in negotiations on a Kosova settlement at Rambouillet castle on 22 February. The previous day, she held talks with the Kosovar delegation and with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic. On 20 February, foreign ministers of the international Contact Group agreed to extend the deadline for concluding a settlement from that day until 3:00 p.m. local time on 23 February. The main obstacles are the Serbian refusal to accept NATO peacekeepers in the province and the Kosovar demand for a referendum on independence at the end of a three-year transition period. She has repeatedly warned the Serbs that they risk NATO air strikes if they do not accept peacekeepers. Albright has also told the Kosovars that NATO will not bomb the Serbs if the Kosovars do not sign the agreement. PM DIFFERENCES IN EU OVER KOSOVA? German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in Luxembourg on 21 February that "there will not be another extension" once the latest deadline for an agreement in Kosova runs out. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, however, noted that the Contact Group "is not setting ultimatums and deadlines." The previous day, Albright said that "it would be a grave mistake for [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic to miscalculate our intentions, adding that "we're not into endless extensions" of deadlines for a settlement. PM ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS SERBS 'SABOTAGE' TALKS. Pandeli Majko told Reuters in Tirana on 19 February that Serbia is trying to "sabotage" the Rambouillet talks. He warned that failure to reach an agreement would destabilize the region. In an apparent reference to Russia, he added that "pro- Serbian international players" share responsibility for the deadlock in the negotiations. Majko noted that the Albanian delegation at Rambouillet has Tirana's full support, regardless of the outcome of the talks. He stressed that "whatever the stand of the [Kosovar delegation is], the Albanian government will be on its side." Elsewhere, Sabri Godo, who heads the parliament's foreign affairs committee, told VOA's Albanian Service on 21 February that "NATO deployment in Kosova is an absolute necessity" for any agreement between the Kosovars and Serbs. FS SERBIAN POLICE ASSAULT OSCE KOSOVA MONITORS. Two members of the Serbian security forces punched the driver of a clearly- marked orange OSCE vehicle near Podujeva on 21 February, Reuters reported. The policemen also pointed their weapons into the vehicle and prevented the driver and a second monitor in the vehicle from radioing for help. The policemen then ordered the monitors to leave the area. Local OSCE officials protested what they called the "aggressive behavior of the Serbian police." The previous day, Serbian forces fought the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) in several places in the Podujeva region. Serbian forces also shelled a village near Suhareka, prompting "several hundred" Kosovar civilians to flee the area, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM NATO PREPARES FOR EVACUATION, AIR STRIKES. A British military spokesman said in Petrovec, Macedonia, on 20 February that the 1,800-strong NATO force based in that former Yugoslav republic is prepared to evacuate the 1,300 OSCE monitors in Kosova on short notice. He stressed that the evacuation force "doesn't have an anti-Serb agenda [or] an anti-Albanian agenda. We are here to take the peace monitors out if they are in trouble," AP quoted him as saying. And at Aviano air base in northern Italy, some 50 U.S. Stealth aircraft arrived the next day. The alliance has a total of 400 aircraft ready to take part in air strikes against Serbia, Reuters noted. PM WASHINGTON ISSUES WARNING FOR REPUBLIKA SRPSKA. The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo advised U.S. citizens and "U.S. government personnel" in the Republika Srpska on 19 February to be prepared to leave on short notice. Observers noted that Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj threatened in October 1998 to take unspecified actions against NATO troops in Bosnia in the event that the alliance launched air strikes against Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 1998). PM ALBANIAN MINISTER WANTS FOREIGN POLICE ON THE GROUND. Petro Koci on 18 February suggested to the parliamentary committee that deals with public order and the secret services that Albania request active foreign support for the police in combating smuggling. Koci acknowledged that Albania's police force is too weak to deal with smugglers and organized criminals by itself, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Police from several EU member countries provide training and equipment to their Albanian counterparts but do not perform police duties. FS UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA. Borys Tarasyuk ended a three-day visit to Romania on 20 February by visiting areas inhabited by the Ukrainian minority in Maramures County, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. One day earlier, Tarasyuk and his Romanian counterpart, Andrei Plesu, told journalists in Bucharest that they achieved a "significant breakthrough" over outstanding problems related to the 1997 bilateral treaty and that they are determined to reach a "compromise" without appealing to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. While refusing to elaborate, Tarasyuk said that "nobody challenges" the status of Serpent Island as "part of Ukrainian territory." (The treaty also delayed for two years delimiting the continental shelf and some border areas.) The two ministers agreed to submit proposals on meeting Romania's demand to set up a "multicultural university" in Cernivici (Cernauti). MS KURDISH PROTESTERS CLASH WITH BUCHAREST POLICE. Several people were injured on 19 February in clashes between the police and Kurdish demonstrators who tried to break into the Greek embassy in Bucharest to protest the detention of Abdullah Ocalan, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Earlier, the police had prohibited such a demonstration. Four Kurds detained for questioning were later freed. Prime Minister Radu Vasile said it had been "a mistake" to grant the Kurds political asylum and that the issue will be "re-examined" by the authorities. MS MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE OUTLINES PLANS. Shortly after his nomination as premier-designate, Ion Sturdza said his government's structure will "reflect the expectations of the parliamentary majority" and that the outgoing cabinet "will not be radically changed," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Sturdza, who must form a cabinet within 15 days, said his government will concentrate on the "continuation of economic and democratic reforms," while taking into consideration "social aspects." He also said that both he and his cabinet will "stay away from politics" and will not participate in the campaign for the local elections. The parliament on 19 February scheduled that ballot for 23 May. MS BULGARIA INTRODUCES VISA REQUIREMENT. Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev on 18 February announced Bulgaria will impose visa requirements on citizens of 24 countries listed by the EU as a source of illegal emigration, an RFE/RL correspondent in Sofia reported. Among those affected are citizens of several former Soviet republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. MS BULGARIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE LEV REDENOMINATION. The parliament on 19 February overwhelmingly approved the lev redenomination law , under which 1,000 old leva will equal 1 new lev. The new lev will have the same value as the German mark, BTA reported. MS END NOTE BROKEN NUCLEAR PROMISES COULD JEOPARDIZE EU MEMBERSHIP CHANCES By Ron Synovitz Nuclear power plants in Lithuania and Bulgaria pose a dilemma for EU officials who want to shut down Eastern Europe's most dangerous reactors. Over-dependence on nuclear energy in those countries has made it impossible to close their aging Soviet-designed reactors and fuel the kind of economic growth needed to make market reforms successful. EU officials thought that in 1993 they had won promises from Bulgaria and Lithuania on early closures. In that year, grants totaling more than $50 million were awarded to improve nuclear safety. But EU External Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek has become frustrated by Sofia's refusal to honor the promise and by threats from Vilnius to back out of its agreement. He us now telling prospective EU members they will not be invited into the union until they reach Western standards on nuclear safety. Some Eastern leaders are questioning which course is more feasible financially --improving their old Soviet- designed reactors or scrapping them altogether and building new types of power plants. At the same time, Brussels has made it clear that it cannot fund all the necessary improvements across Eastern Europe. But Eastern leaders say they must have aid to improve safety and reduce their dependence on nuclear energy. Van den Broek says Lithuania must set a definite timetable for closing its Ignalina plant if it wants to be invited to fast-track talks on EU membership. But early this month, when Lithuanian Economics Minister Vincas Babilius submitted the government's draft energy policy to parliament, he warned that Lithuania cannot specify shutdown dates without aid commitments. According to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Lithuania is more dependent on nuclear power than any other country in the world. Two 1,500 megawatt RBMK reactors at Ignalina produce more than 80 percent of the country's electricity supply. The reactors are the same design as the unit that caused the Chornobyl disaster in 1986. When both are working, Lithuania can produce almost twice as much energy as its domestic demand. That allows Lithuania to export electricity--something increasingly important as the Baltic States unify their power grids. Shutting down one unit at Ignalina would not only reduce exports but also mean costly electricity imports. A study by the Swedish firm Grufman Reje found that early closure could cost Lithuania almost $4 billion. In 1993, Lithuania accepted about $30 million from the EBRD-administered Nuclear Safety Account in exchange for a promise not to replace Ignalina's fuel channels. Brussels has taken that promise to mean a shutdown early in the next century. But Lithuanian officials now say rechanneling may be the only affordable option. A study last October determined that Ignalina's oldest reactor can operate safely for only another three years without rechanneling. Babilius says EU funding would allow the oldest unit to be decommissioned as early as next year and the second reactor as soon as 2005. But without aid, the government says Ignalina will continue operating for at least 15 more years. Meanwhile in Bulgaria, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov says it will cost more to decommission the four oldest reactors at the Kozloduy plant than it will to raise safety standards to Western levels. As pressure from Brussels for a shutdown increases, Kostov is asking the parliament to reach consensus on a new national energy policy. National Electricity Company managers say they will run Kozloduy's four VVER-440 megawatt reactors through the end of their design lives--from 2004 to 2012. The EU wants the oldest reactor shut down by 2002 and others soon after. Kozloduy produces more than 40 percent of the country's electricity. About 4 percent of electricity production is exported, mostly to Turkey. While decommissioning could put an end to those exports, the trade issues are not as vital to Sofia as they are for Lithuania. In 1991, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) labeled Kozloduy's oldest reactor as the most dangerous in Europe. Since then, vast improvements have been made in equipment, staff qualifications, and organization. According to Ivan Shilyashki, chairman of Bulgaria's National Energy Committee, a team of IAEA inspectors who visited Kozloduy this month praised the progress and said the plant is far safer than eight years ago. In 1993, about $22 million in equipment was delivered to Kozloduy through the EBRD's Nuclear Safety Account. In exchange, Sofia promised to shut the four VVER-440 reactors by 1998. But Kostov backed away from that pledge last year. National Electricity Company managers supported the move, saying shutdowns were impossible because expected replacement power never became available. Threats to block EU accession show how backtracking by Sofia, Vilnius, and others has forced the European Commission to rethink its approach. At the request of Van den Broek, a panel of senior EU officials late last year drafted a new strategy for improving nuclear safety in the East. One telling conclusion deals with Russia. The panel said a more "cooperative approach" is needed because senior officials in Moscow are rejecting what they see as "paternalistic assistance" from the EU. The panel also said it is pointless to demand reactor shutdowns as a precondition for aid because many countries stand to lose far more from energy cuts than the funds offered by the West. Significantly, the panel recommended continued pressure for early closures at Kozloduy and Ignalina. The author is an RFE/RL editor based in Prague. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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