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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 38, Part II, 24 February 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 38, Part II, 24 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 HEALTH WORKERS SUSPEND GENERAL STRIKE * KOSOVA TALKS ADJOURNED * UCK PLEDGES TO CONTINUE 'LIBERATION WAR' xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE MOODY'S LOWERS UKRAINE'S DOMESTIC LIABILITIES RATING. The international rating agency Moody's has lowered the rating of the Ukrainian government's domestic currency bonds from B3 to Ca, Interfax and AP reported on 22 February. According to Moody's, the Ca rating reflects "obligations which are speculative in a high degree...and are often in default." Moody's added that the terms offered by the Ukrainian government last fall for the "voluntary" exchange of maturing T-bills were a "technical default." Moody's also warned that the hryvnya is under threat of rapid devaluation this year. Meanwhile, experts predict that given the current lack of foreign exchange liquidity, Ukraine faces a default on its foreign debt. JM KUCHMA INSTRUCTS GOVERNMENT TO RETURN CHURCH PROPERTY. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has given the cabinet one year to return former Church property to religious organizations in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 23 February. Kuchma urged the State Property Fund to prohibit the privatization of Church property and oblige local authorities to provide land on which new Churches as well as Muslim and Jewish cemeteries can be built. He also ordered the State Customs Committee to simplify procedures for delivering humanitarian aid to religious organizations. JM UKRAINIAN JEWS SPLIT TO FORM NEW CONFEDERATION. Three influential Jewish organizations in Ukraine's 500,000- strong Jewish community have announced their intent to quit the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and set up a Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, AP reported on 23 February. The breakaway groups accuse the congress of "inactivity" and pledge to unite Ukraine's more than 300 Jewish organizations and groups within the new confederation. Ukrainian Television reported on 23 February that representatives of all Jewish organizations in Ukraine are to meet in April and "determine their participation in the newly-created confederation." JM BELARUSIAN JUDGE REQUESTS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN GERMANY. Yury Sushkou, a judge from the city of Babruysk, has requested political asylum in Germany, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported on 23 February, citing the Spring-96 human rights group in Minsk. Sushkou is currently in a German camp for political refugees. At a news conference in Minsk on 18 February, Sushkou said, "My experience as a judge has convinced me that achieving justice based on law is impossible under the Belarusian judicial system. Judges are forced to ignore the law and make decisions that support the totalitarian regime." He added that judges in Belarus are compelled to justify lengthy investigations and detentions by finding the defendants guilty, regardless of the evidence. He added that he knows from experience that prosecutors often elicit confessions from defendants by means of torture. JM BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST GRANTED LAST-MINUTE AMNESTY. Alyaksey Shydlouski, a student sentenced to 18 months in jail for painting anti-presidential graffiti on city buildings in Stoubtsy, has been released from a Minsk prison two days before his sentence was due to expire, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 23 February. Shydlouski told RFE/RL that authorities waited until the last moment to amnesty him for two reasons: to avoid a planned demonstration by Shydlouski's supporters on the scheduled day of his release and to strip him of the right to amnesty in the event of his future arrest. In Belarus, an individual can be amnestied only once every 10 years. JM ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS ADOPT RAILWAY LAW. The parliament on 23 February finally adopted the law on the railways, thereby removing the final obstacle to the privatization of this sector, ETA reported. The law regulates general safety measures for railway transport and provides for issuing licenses to railway infrastructure companies. Railway privatization deadlines have been pushed back by 18 months owing to the delay in passing the new law. Meanwhile, opposition parties successfully used delaying tactics in the parliament to prevent discussion of the controversial bill on import tariffs during the current legislature's term. JC ESTONIAN INDUSTRIAL SALES NOSEDIVE. The sales of industrial goods plummeted last month, falling 15 percent compared with January 1998 and 20 percent vis-ŕ- vis December 1998, ETA reported on 23 February. Analysts cited tougher competition and the continuing pressure on global markets as well as the Russian financial crisis, which caused a large number of bankruptcies in the industrial sector. Sales of foodstuffs and soft drinks were down 41 percent compared with January 1998, while electricity and heating output were down 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively. JC ESTONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER MEETS WITH MOSCOW PATRIARCH. Olari Taal told Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II in Moscow on 22 February that the Russian Orthodox Church subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate will be registered in Estonia "as soon as possible," ETA reported. Taal commented that while the state has done "everything" to legalize the Church, members of the Church have been "passive" about registering it in accordance with Estonian law. Aleksii, who was born in Estonia on 23 February 1929, said he is "certain" he will pay a visit to that country this year. JC LATVIAN CABINET NOT TO ATTEND 16 MARCH CEREMONIES. The government has decided not to take part in any ceremonies commemorating 16 March, which has been designated Latvian Soldiers Day, LETA reported on 23 February. An official government statement urges residents, the mass media, and political and non- governmental organizations to display tolerance toward and understanding for events organized by war veterans. It calls upon residents to avoid becoming victims of any provocation aimed at destabilizing the country. And it also condemns any extreme radical manifestations such as "Nazism, Stalinism, or anti-Semitism." Last year, a march by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion provoked a heated debate in Latvia and strong criticism from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1998). JC EU SETS NO DEADLINE FOR CLOSING IGNALINA. At a meeting of the EU-Lithuanian Association Council in Luxembourg on 22 February, the EU urged Vilnius to undertake "realistic commitments" on closing down the Ignalina nuclear power plant but stopped short of setting a deadline for the plant's closure, LETA and BNS reported. A Lithuanian diplomat in Brussels told BNS that there were no threats of not inviting Lithuania to EU accession talks at the end of 1999 if the country fails to set a date for shutting down Ignalina. "The dialogue with the EU does not even give a hint of an ultimatum," he commented. A draft national strategy outlines two scenarios for Ignalina: phasing out the plant by 2005, which would be earlier than originally projected, or continuing operations until 2015 (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). JC POLISH HEALTH WORKERS SUSPEND GENERAL STRIKE. Poland's health sector has suspended a nationwide 10-day strike launched last week to demand higher wages and increased funds for the health care system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 February 1999). Krzysztof Bukiel, head of a doctors' trade union, said the continued negotiations with the government provide hope for a compromise on demands that the health service be given more money, AP reported. However, a Health Ministry spokesman told Reuters that the government will not accept the protesters' demand to increase the mandatory health-care contribution to 11 percent of an individual's income from the current 7.5 percent. JM SUPPORT FOR POLAND'S SOLIDARITY BLOC PLUNGES. A poll conducted by the Center for the Study of Public Opinion (CBOS) in early February shows that support for the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), the larger of the two ruling coalition parties, has decreased from 28 percent in January to 22 percent. The liberal Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner, improved its rating from 11 percent to 15 percent, while support for the opposition post-communist Democratic Left Alliance rose from 27 percent to 29 percent. The CBOS commented that the plunge in the AWS's popularity can be attributed to the recent protests by farmers and health-service workers. The agricultural and health ministers are affiliated to the AWS. JM CZECH PREMIER, CARDINAL VLK REACH AGREEMENT. Two commissions, the existing government one and a new one composed of experts and reflecting the composition of the parliament, will examine Church-state relations under a compromise agreement reached by Premier Milos Zeman and Cardinal Miroslav Vlk on 23 February. Vlk told journalists that the Catholic Church (which has opposed the presence of a Communist Party member on the existing government commission) will not oppose a Communist presence on the expert commission but will not "officially participate" in its debates, CTK reported. MS SKINHEAD LEADERS DETAINED IN CZECH REPUBLIC. Police in Plzen on 20 February detained 12 skinheads before a planned meeting in a nearby village, CTK reported. The police have requested that three of those detained remain in custody during an investigation into their activities. The 12 are charged with violating legislation guaranteeing civic rights and freedoms, which can carry prison sentences of up to eight years. Premier Zeman on 23 February met with the officers involved in the raid and promised them promotions. The same day, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that police have detained in Holoubkov, western Bohemia, six members of a previously unknown paramilitary group called Sturmpionier-Battalion 43. The group, which vows to honor the legacy of the Nazi Wehrmacht, was armed with World War II rifles and a machine gun. MS SLOVAK POLICE RAID LEXA SECRETARY'S HOME. Police on 23 February searched the home of the secretary of former Slovak Counter-Intelligence chief Ivan Lexa, CTK reported. A spokesman said the police were acting on information based on an "anonymous letter" and were searching for the weapon used in the murder of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky on 11 January. Lexa requested that the prosecutor-general investigate the "politicized police" action, saying his secretary was questioned for seven hours and later had to consult a doctor. MS HUNGARY'S TOP BANKING SUPERVISORS RESIGN. Imre Tarafas, president of the State Banking and Capital Markets Supervision (APTF), and his deputy, Rezso Nyers, resigned on 23 February, saying their "rapidly deteriorating relationship" with the government was jeopardizing the country's financial sector. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai last week demanded Tarafas's resignation for failing to take action to prevent the bankruptcy of Realbank and the Globex brokerage and for the difficulties encountered by Postabank. Following the resignations, the government withdrew its accusations, saying that the APTF did everything possible to maintain the financial sector's stability. As the APTF leadership was appointed by the previous government, the conflict is viewed by media as political in nature. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE KOSOVA TALKS ADJOURNED. The Kosova peace conference in Rambouillet, France, ended on 23 February without an agreement, AP reported. The U.S., French, and British co-hosts of the 17-day talks decided to suspend the talks until 15 March to give the Albanians two weeks for "consultations" with their constituencies. Both Albanians and Serbs have committed themselves to participating in the follow-up conference. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said "we do not have the signatures" either on political part of the peace accord or the military annex that the six-country Contact Group argues is necessary to enforce it. He added that "we will use the next three weeks to convince the Serbs andŠAlbanians that the agreement is a good bargain for both sides." The Albanian delegation continues to insist on a referendum on independence after three years, while the Serbs still reject a NATO peacekeeping force. FS CONTACT GROUP PRAISES 'CONSENSUS'... Notwithstanding the lack of an agreement, the Contact Group issued a statement after the conference saying that "the important efforts of the parties and the unstinting commitment of our negotiatorsŠhave led to a consensus on substantial autonomy for Kosova, including on mechanisms for free and fair elections to democratic institutions for the governance of Kosova, for the protection of human rights and the rights of members of national communities, and for the establishment of a fair judicial system." The statement stressed that the envisaged autonomy will respect "the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." It added that "a political framework is now in placeŠand the groundwork has thereby been laid for finalizing the implementation Chapters of the Agreement, including the modalities of the invited international civilian and military presence" in Kosova. FS ...WARNS PARTIES TO RESPECT CEASE-FIRE. The Contact Group's statement went on to say that "the parties must abstain from any action which would undermine the achievements of Rambouillet" and "honor fully and immediately the cease-fire" in Kosova as well as "abstain from all provocative actions." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stressed that NATO's threat of air strikes remains in place in the event that Serbs resume attacks in Kosova. She said that "the marriage of force and policy still exists," adding that NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana "holds the ring." She stressed, however, that it is up to the Albanians to "create this black and white situation" by fully accepting an accord themselves, Reuters reported. FS UN, EU, U.S. URGE 'CONSTRUCTIVE SPIRIT.' The UN Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan have urged Serbs and Albanians to "work constructively" to implement agreements when talks resume on 15 March. Annan expressed the hope that the conference "will result in a comprehensive interim agreement" and "provide genuine autonomy for the long-suffering people of Kosova." U.S. President Bill Clinton called the talks " a significant step forward in the search for a fair and lasting peace" and urged both sides to sign the Contact Group's draft agreement next month. He noted that NATO remains poised to use military force if necessary. The German Foreign Ministry, in the name of the EU presidency, issued a statement saying that the EU is determined to play a "substantial role" in reconstructing the Serbian province and in helping to implement any peace deal. FS SERBIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TALKS WERE UNSUCCESSFUL. Milan Milutinovic said in Rambouillet after the talks that "the [Contact Group's] conclusions are a camouflage for the lack of success at this conference," adding that "there has been no Rambouillet accord." He blamed organizers for allowing only "minimal contact" between the Serbs and the Kosova Albanians during the talks, adding that there was prejudice against the Serbs throughout, AP reported. Milutinovic demanded "a new method of working to allow us to reach a quicker and better solution," including more face-to-face talks. He again ruled out the possibility of any NATO troops on Serbian soil or a combination of NATO and Russian troops. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic accused international mediators of playing "games behind the scenes" and altering the draft peace plan at the last minute to include a formula for an eventual referendum on independence. FS UCK PLEDGES TO CONTINUE 'LIBERATION WAR'... A spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) political representative Adem Demaci said in Prishtina on 23 February that talks cannot bring peace and the guerrillas will wage their "liberation war" to the end. Meanwhile, the head of the Albanian delegation in Rambouillet, UCK representative Hashim Thaci, told Albanian Television that the Kosovars "should not expect much" from the next round of negotiations. He urged them to unite behind the UCK. FS ...WHILE FIGHTING CONTINUES. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, citing the Serbian Media Center, reported on 23 February that five Serbian policemen were wounded in the village of Bukoshi, near Vushtrri, during a shootout with the UCK. An AP photographer was also injured in the fighting. The shadow-state Kosova Information Center, meanwhile, reported that Serbian troops continue bombarding several villages in the area with tanks and heavy artillery. Elsewhere, UNHCR spokesman Chris Janowski put the total number of people who fled their homes within the last three days alone at around 10,000. FS YUGOSLAV ARMY MINES BRIDGE. Unnamed diplomats and international peace monitors told Reuters that Yugoslav army engineers have placed explosives on a key bridge at the main highway connecting Prishtina with the Macedonian border. A diplomat said that "the Yugoslav army is serious and professional. They wouldn't be a match for NATO if it came to it but they would use every means to frustrate an attack, including blowing up the bridges and tunnels that NATO ground forces would want to use." FS ALBANIA WANTS NATO TO ENSURE PEACE. The Albanian government issued a statement on 23 February in Tirana saying that "the talks [are] onlyŠthe first stage in reaching an agreement and that the draft political accord agreed on in Rambouillet will be "implemented only by the military and political enforcing instruments of NATO and the OSCE." Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told Albanian Television that the agreement might not have been the best possible for the ethnic Albanians but that it is the best base from which to proceed. Milo predicted that the Kosovars' attitude will not alter in the two weeks before the next conference, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Albania's Defense Ministry has put troops on high alert in its northern regions, after Serbian troops and equipment began to be reinforced along the border, an army spokesman told Reuters on 23 February. FS CHINA OPPOSES EXTENSION OF MACEDONIAN UN MANDATE. A spokesman for China's UN mission in New York told Reuters on 23 February that China opposes extending the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Macedonia. He did not say, however, whether China will use its veto in the Security Council. The council is scheduled to vote this week on whether to renew the mandate, which expires on 27 February. China severed diplomatic relations with Macedonia on 9 February because of its new ties to Taiwan. Meanwhile, unnamed diplomats say the U.S. is considering a new status for the peacekeepers, either as part of NATO or as a separate border force paid for by Washington and other contributors. FS BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY SEEKS CUTS IN MILITARY SPENDING. Bosnia's collective presidency on 23 February launched an initiative aimed at reducing military spending, Mirza Hajric, an adviser to Bosnian Muslim Presidency member Alija Izetbegovic, told Reuters. Hajric said he believes the idea could "easily fly" in the federation and that he hopes the Republika Srpska will also accept it. Hajric said the idea is to reduce such spending by one- third to free up money for reconstruction of the country. He stressed, however, that "we would have to get an agreement with Yugoslavia and Croatia." FS NATO BOOSTS PRESENCE IN HARDLINE BOSNIAN-SERB TOWN. SFOR spokesman Glenn Chamberlain told Reuters on 23 February that SFOR has "sharply increased" its presence in Foca. That town is believed to harbor several Serbian indicted war criminals. Chamberlain said SFOR will set up random checkpoints, noting that "this is recognition of a pattern of illegal activity in that town over a considerable period of time." However, he gave no other details about the nature of the operation. FS ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO ASK PARLIAMENT FOR ENDORSEMENT. Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 23 February said on Romanian Television that his government will "assume responsibility" in the parliament for its economic program. According to this process, the legislature is considered to have approved the program unless a no confidence motion is submitted. Vasile said the program will include a new privatization law envisaging the sale in installments of state-owned companies to Romanian investors, a law on property restitution, and legislation defining public administration accountability. In other news, the miners in the Jiu Valley and the valley's state-owned mining company have reached agreement on a new collective contract for 1999 that provides for an average wage hike of 17 percent. MS ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY THREATENS PARLIAMENTARY BOYCOTT. Ovidiu Musatescu, executive secretary of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said on 23 February that the PDSR will discuss the possibility of boycotting parliamentary debates till the next elections to protest the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic's (PNTCD) campaign against PDSR leader Ion Iliescu. PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu and his deputy, Remus Opris, told journalists on 22 February that the former president cannot run for what they said would be a third presidential term, adding that "it will soon transpire who is truly responsible" for the miners' rampages in Bucharest in 1990-1991. Musatescu said the PDSR will "use all possible forms of protest" to defend its chairman. MS SMIRNOV CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING MILITARY. Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, marking the Defense of the Fatherland Day on 23 February, said Transdniester must build up its military potential, adding that the country "needs a strong and well-trained army to defend its sovereignty and independence at any moment," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The same day, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Chisinau said a Tiraspol delegation's recent participation in debates in the Russian State Duma on the Transdniester was "a gesture incompatible with the traditional Russia-Moldovan dialogue." Oleg Serebrian said the Duma is "free to discuss any problem related to Russia's national interests but must [neither] affect the national interests of other sovereign nations" nor allow "any infringement of other countries' territorial integrity," Infotag reported. MS BULGARIA, ROMANIA DISAGREE OVER DANUBE TUNNEL. A Romanian project to build a tunnel under the Danube River between Giurgiu and Russe has met with sharp criticism in Bulgaria, dpa reports, citing the daily "Trud." Giurgiu and Russe are already linked by a bridge. The daily says the Romanian plan is aimed at preventing the construction of a second bridge over the river. The two governments have long disagreed over the construction of a second bridge: Bulgaria insists that it span the river between Vidin and Calafat, while Bucharest wants the bridge to be built further east. Bulgarian experts say Romanian opposition to the Vidin- Calafat project stems from non-economic, political motives and that Bucharest wants to prevent an economic boom in Transylvania, where Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority is concentrated. MS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE Send an email to email@example.com with the word unsubscribe as the subject of the message. 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