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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 54, Part II, 18 March 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 54, Part II, 18 March 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'S INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT FALLS, UNEMPLOYMENT GROWS * RUGOVA SAYS TALKS 'OVER' FOR KOSOVARS * SERBIAN BUILDUP CONTINUES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REINTRODUCES BAN ON UTILITIES PRICE HIKES. A week after Ukraine's Constitutional Court revoked a parliamentary ban on price increases for utilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 1999), the Communist-dominated Supreme Council on 17 March voted by 232 to 18 to reinstate the ban as an amendment to the law on prices and pricing. The amendment obliges the cabinet to seek the parliament's approval to raise the prices of water, heating, and electricity supplies. It also prohibits the cabinet from seeking such price hikes before all wage and pension arrears have been paid. Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy said the ban is "politically motivated. We need a pragmatic approach-- everything that is consumed must have an appropriate price," Ukrainian Television quoted him as saying. JM UKRAINE'S INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT FALLS, UNEMPLOYMENT GROWS. The State Statistics Committee has reported that Ukraine's industrial output fell by 2.1 percent in the first two months of 1999, compared with last year. Ukraine's GDP decreased by 4.2 percent over the same period, while the official unemployment rate increased to 4 percent. Currently, there are 1.12 million people officially registered as jobless, but the actual figure is believed to be much higher. According to AP, many Ukrainians either do not formally register as jobless or are forced by their companies to take unpaid vacations. JM UKRAINIAN POLICE ARREST SEX TRADE GANG. Police in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea, have arrested two men and a woman suspected of selling some 200 females aged 13 to 25 years to individuals engaged in illegal sex business abroad, UNIAN reported on 17 March. The three allegedly received $2,000 for each woman sent to night clubs in Turkey, Greece, or Cyprus, where the women were subsequently forced to become prostitutes. The International Organization for Migration estimated last year that more than 1 million Ukrainian women seeking work abroad are in danger of becoming ensnared in the illegal sex business. JM GAZPROM RESUMES FULL GAS DELIVERIES TO BELARUS. Gazprom on 15 March resumed gas deliveries to Belarus totaling 44 million cubic meters a day, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 March. The Russian gas company reduced its supplies to 32 million cubic meters a day at the end of February to pressure Belarus into paying its $250 million gas debt to Russia and concluding an agreement on this year's gas supplies. Belarus insists that the price of Russian gas should be $35 per 1,000 cubic meters (the current price on the Russian market), instead of $50 (last year's price). The resumption of the full supplies followed Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev's visit to Minsk last week. There have been no official comments on the results of that visit. JM LUKASHENKA DECREES 'STRICT RULES' FOR BUSINESSES IN BELARUS. Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 16 March signed a decree on "regulating the state registration and liquidation of economic entities" in Belarus. According to Belarusian Television, the decree establishes "strict rules of behavior in the domestic economy," including legal responsibility for businesses that "have done harm to state and public interests." Uladzimir Karahin, head of an organization representing Belarusian private entrepreneurs, predicted that the decree would entail a "colossal change in ownership" in Belarus. Many businessmen will find themselves on a "black list" of those prohibited from setting up new businesses for several years because of failing to comply with the decree. JM OSCE PROPOSES NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN LUKASHENKA, OPPOSITION. Referring to an unidentified source in the presidential administration, the 17 March "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported that OSCE Minsk mission head Hans Georg Wieck has proposed a meeting between President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and four opposition figures to discuss a "new constitutional consensus" in Belarus. According to Wieck's plan, the opposition should be represented at the meeting by Syamyon Sharetski, head of the Supreme Soviet, Viktar Hanchar, head of the Central Electoral Commission, and Zyanon Paznyak and Mikhail Chyhir, candidates in the presidential elections scheduled by the opposition for 16 May. JM ESTONIAN RIGHT-WING PARTIES SIGN COALITION AGREEMENT... The Reform Party, the Moderates, and the Fatherland Union on 17 March signed a coalition agreement naming Mart Laar, chairman of the Fatherland Union, as their candidate for prime minister. The three parties pledge to continue pursuing the country's foreign-policy goals of admission to the EU and NATO as well as a "stable and reliable" monetary policy, ETA reported. Beginning in January 2000, the 26 percent corporate tax will be abolished--a major provision of the Reform Party's platform. Another goal of the alliance is to gradually increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP. The three right-wing parties have a combined total of 53 seats in the 101-strong parliament. JC ...WHILE COALITION PARTY GOES INTO OPPOSITION. Also on 17 March, the former ruling Coalition Party announced that it will go into "constructive opposition" with the Center Party, the Country People's Party, and the United People's Party, ETA reported. Earlier, some members of the right-wing alliance had hinted of the possible inclusion of the Coalition Party in the ruling coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1999). JC LATVIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR TACKLING UNEMPLOYMENT. Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Free Trade Unions association, Vilis Kristopans said that unemployment has reached a level where it is necessary to seriously tackle the problem, BNS and LETA reported. Stressing that there is no reason to "panic," he said that he will declare war on the "black" labor market, vowing to find out how many registered unemployed have unofficial jobs. On 16 March, the Central Statistics Office revealed that unemployment in Latvia has reached 10 percent, up from 9.7 percent at the beginning of the month. JC EUROSKEPTICS GROWING IN NUMBER IN LATVIA. According to a poll conducted by the SKDS polling company and the European Integration Office last month, 36.6 percent of Latvians are in favor of the EU membership, down some 10 percent compared with last November, BNS and LETA reported on 17 March. Some 30.4 percent are opposed to EU membership and 33 percent undecided (compared with 26.8 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively, in November 1998). Fifty-four percent said they had a positive attitude in general toward the EU, compared with 63.5 percent three months earlier. JC LITHUANIAN PREMIER UPBEAT ABOUT WTO MEMBERSHIP. Gediminas Vagnorius, wrapping up a three-day visit to the U.S., said that he believes Lithuania will complete negotiations for membership in the World Trade Organization by the end of this year. He was speaking after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky in Washington on 17 March. The U.S. is leading the WTO accession negotiations with Lithuania. In an interview with RFE/RL, Vagnorius said a "major but unrecognized problem" has been the incompatibility of membership requirements for the EU and the WTO. He said that he and Barshefsky discussed "compromises that would "balance" the requirements of the two organizations. JC BALCEROWICZ SURVIVES VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE. The Polish parliament on 18 March voted by 228 to 180 with four abstentions to defeat the no confidence motion in Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz. Balcerowicz was supported by deputies from the Solidarity bloc and his own party, the Freedom Union. The opposition Peasant Party proposed the motion. That group blames Balcerowicz's policy of lowering the budget deficit for a rise in unemployment and the impoverishment of many social groups. Peasant Party leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski told the parliament the previous day that the no confidence motion reflects the opinions of millions of ordinary Poles. "We must not allow Poland to be pushed toward the policy of printing money to pay for welfare," Balcerowicz commented before the vote. JM CHILE PRESIDENT WARNS PRAGUE NOT TO INTERFERE IN PINOCHET AFFAIR. Eduardo Frei said in Prague on 17 March after meeting with President Vaclav Havel that "foreign legal systems" have no right to interfere in the case of former dictator Augusto Pinochet and that "what happened in Chile must be dealt with by a Chilean court," CTK reported. Frei said that his country underwent a transition from dictatorship to a democratic system but claims no right to "evaluate how this transition proceeded in Czechoslovakia and how it is now proceeding in the Czech Republic." Foreign Minister Jan Kavan the same day dissociated himself from the praise for Pinochet voiced by opposition Civic Democratic Party Senator Vaclav Benda at a meeting with Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza. Benda said Chile's current stability and prosperity proves Pinochet's methods "were justified." and that he "saved Chile from terror and communist dictatorship." MS CZECH ARMY TO GET NEW FIGHTER PLANE BY END OF 1999. The Czech air force will "probably" get the first five of its new L-159 fighter combat planes in December 1999, Adam Stranak, director of the Aero Vodochody company, which produces the plane, told chief of staff General Jiri Sedivy on 17 March. The air force has ordered 72 L- 159s, CTK reported. Stranak said that his company "has been contacted" by several NATO states showing an interest in the purchase of the L-159, adding that NATO countries could start using the fighter in 2007. Sedivy confirmed that he "has often discussed the project during his trips abroad." But the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 18 March writes that Czech pilots will not be able to "effectively use" the L-159 because the Defense Ministry has failed to order special simulators necessary for pilots to familiarize themselves with the new aircraft. MS HUNGARIAN MINISTER DENIES SLOVAK INVOLVEMENT IN BUDAPEST BOMBINGS. Secret Services Minister Laszlo Kover told journalists on 17 March that the Hungarian national security authorities have found no evidence that the Slovak secret services had anything to do with a series of bombings in Budapest in 1997-1998. Kover confirmed that the Slovak operation "Omega" was designed to slow down Hungary's Euro-Atlantic integration but denied reports that the Slovak secret services were successful in harming Hungary's national interests. Meanwhile, national police spokesman Laszlo Garamvolgyi said on 17 March that no laws were broken during the neo-Nazi Hungarian Welfare Federation's 15 March demonstration in Budapest. He said video recordings of the event were sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office for further investigations. Gusztav Zoltai, executive chairman of the Hungarian Federation of Jewish Communities called the statement "strange," saying that remarks made at the demonstration constituted "openly racist incitement." MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE RUGOVA SAYS TALKS 'OVER' FOR KOSOVARS. Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 17 March in a telephone interview from Paris that the conference on the political future of Kosova "ended successfully" for the Kosovars when they agreed to sign the Rambouillet agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1999). He stressed that the outcome of the meeting now depends on the international mediators. Rugova added that he is confident that the international community and NATO are serious about their possible intervention against Serbia. He noted that the Kosovar delegation's top priority is to "end the massacres in Kosova as quickly as possible." In Prishtina, his Democratic League of Kosova issued an appeal to NATO to intervene to prevent further attacks by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanian civilians. PM CONFERENCE TO END SOON? British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, will meet in Paris on the evening of 18 March to decide whether to continue the conference. Kosovar delegation member Veton Surroi said that he and his colleagues are ready to sign the Rambouillet accord and "pack our bags and go home." U.S. envoy Chris Hill told reporters that the Kosovars have done all that mediators could expect of them. He added that Serbian representatives remain intransigent and that he sees little hope for a breakthrough. Russian negotiator Boris Mayorskii, however, said that hope for progress remains as long as the talks continue. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 18 March that "we appeal to Belgrade to sign" the Rambouillet accord, Reuters reported. PM SERBIAN BUILDUP CONTINUES. Surroi also said in Paris on 18 March that "the Serbs...have not participated in negotiations here but, as we have seen with the troop [increase] in Kosova, they are 'negotiating' on the ground and [in effect] saying 'no, we don't want to [talk], we actually want to resolve this by war,'" Reuters reported. The London "Independent" quoted NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark as saying in Washington that Serbian forces are preparing to "resume the conflict on a very large scale." Unnamed Western officials in Prishtina told the "International Herald Tribune" that the Serbian forces' goal is to secure the rail line running through Kosova to the Macedonian border. One official added that the Serbs "may also be testing the threshold of Western tolerance for their actions." PM ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SERBS 'PREPARING NEW MASSACRE.' Paskal Milo, speaking to Albanian Television on 17 March in Paris, said the recent concentration of Serbian security forces within Kosova means that Belgrade is preparing for a military offensive against the ethnic Albanian civilian population. Milo stressed that "there are clear signs that they are preparing for a new large-scale massacre." He appealed to "the international community, the Contact Group countries, [and] NATO... to take urgent measures to prevent the Serbian authorities from repeating their previous massacres," dpa reported. FS ALBRIGHT INVITES KOSOVARS TO WASHINGTON. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has invited Hashim Thaci and other members of the Kosovar delegation to the Paris talks to discuss their political goals with her in Washington, AP reported on 18 March. Thaci and his colleagues have accepted. State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters that "we want to develop a good relationship with [the Kosovar leaders] as they transform themselves into a politically-oriented organization" in a peace-time environment. PM COVER-UP OF RECAK MASSACRE? "A row has erupted over the long-awaited report of a Finnish [team of pathologists'] investigation into the killing of more than 40 ethnic Albanians" in the Kosovar village of Recak in January," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported on 18 March. The newspaper added that "Helena Ranta, head of the Finnish team, refused to label the killings a 'massacre,' saying that such a conclusion lay outside her competence. But she later admitted that the killings had been 'a crime against humanity.'" She also refused to say who she believes shot the civilians. The "International Herald Tribune" wrote that unnamed EU officials "had asked the forensic team to withhold from the press and public some of its most potentially inflammatory findings." The daily noted that unnamed officials of Germany, which holds the rotating EU chair, "ordered the Finnish team not to release a summary of its investigation, which includes details about how some of the victims appeared to have died." PM SERBIA BANS KOSOVAR DAILY. Serbian police on 17 March confiscated from kiosks in Prishtina and other towns copies of the mass-circulation daily "Kosova Sot." The action followed a Prishtina district court decision to "ban" the paper and fine it some $150,000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). The staff of "Kosova Sot" said in a statement that they intend to ignore the ban and continue to publish. PM BELGRADE COURT RAPS MONTENEGRO. Meeting in Belgrade on 17 March, the federal Constitutional Court called "unconstitutional" a recent resolution of the Montenegrin parliament stating that Montenegrin conscripts are not obliged to serve in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM ALBANIAN POLICE BREAK UP BIG COFFEE SMUGGLING NETWORK. Albanian police have arrested 12 suspects in a major coffee-smuggling ring, including seven customs officers and three policemen, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 18 March. Police seized more than 270 tons of coffee with a market value of $900,000 in a warehouse in the village of Sauk, near Tirana. Among those arrested was Janaq Murati, the owner of the major coffee importing company Murati do Brazil, and his brother. An unnamed police source told the newspaper that "top government officials" were involved in the smuggling network. He did not name those officials on the grounds that any disclosure at this time could adversely affect ongoing investigations. Secret Service Chief Agim Tirana told dpa that "we are encouraged by this success and want to keep up our operations against all kinds of smuggling activities in Albania." FS HERZEGOVINIAN POLICE ON STRIKE. Ethnic Croatian members of the police force in Mostar-Neretva County walked off their jobs on 16 March and did not report for work the next day in protest over the assassination attempt on Jozo Leutar, who is the Bosnian federation's deputy interior minister (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 March 1999). In Zagreb, Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said that Croatia expects the Bosnian authorities to "respond firmly" to the bombing. He did not, however, repeat charges made by Herzegovinian leader Ante Jelavic that the attack was linked to the Muslim political leadership, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Croatian capital. PM CLINTON TO VISIT SLOVENIA. A White House spokesman said on 17 March that President Bill Clinton will visit Slovenia in June after he attends the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized countries in Cologne, Germany. PM ROMANIAN NATIONAL CURRENCY DROPS SHARPLY. As the leu dropped sharply on 17 March, Premier Radu Vasile met with National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu to discuss the issue, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Mircea Ciumara, deputy chairman of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, said the bank is likely to intervene to stop the trend. The official rate dropped from 14.040 lei to $1 early on 17 March to 14,900 lei at closing, while authorized dealers charged 15,000-20,000. Also on 17 March, the four largest trade union confederations, which plan to launch a general strike in the second half of April, met with the Standing Bureau of the Chamber of Deputies to submit their demands. Those demands range from amending the budget to allow for salary indexation to curtailing the prerogatives of the State Property Fund in the privatization drive. MS ROMANIAN CUSTOMS CHIEF UNDER INVESTIGATION. Police are investigating Nini Sapunaru, chief of the General Customs Directorate, who is suspected of having failed to forward to the Finance Ministry a license for a duty- free company operating at Bucharest airport and of causing the company losses totaling 1 billion lei ($71,000), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The company was temporarily closed in 1998 under suspicion of defrauding the state, but later a court allowed it to resume operating. Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, chairman of the coalition National Liberal Party (of which Sapunaru is a member), said he is convinced Sapunaru is "innocent." Ionescu-Quintus added, however, that he will not intervene in the investigation. MS WORLD BANK OFFICIAL MEETS LUCINSCHI, STURDZA. Robert Grawe, World Bank regional director, met with President Petru Lucinschi and Premier Ion Sturdza in Chisinau on 17 March, RFE/RL's bureau there reported. Grawe said that lending to Moldova may resume "within weeks," following a visit to Moldova by a group of experts from the bank to assess the situation. He said the resumption of lending depends on whether the new government will honor the obligations assumed by its predecessor. Lucinschi assured Grawe that "there is no continuity problem" and that "reforms have become irreversible." The same day, Sturdza and Grawe signed an accord for a $15 million World Bank credit aimed at restructuring public administration. MS BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS DEBATE ON KOSOVA. Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov on 16 March said that Premier Ivan Kostov's statements in the parliament earlier that day about the cabinet's position on the conflict in Kosova "do not comply with the national interest"(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 1999). He added that his party will demand a debate in the parliament. Parvanov said the government has been conducting negotiations with NATO "behind the back" of the legislature and "in violation of the constitution." It has also been "making commitments that may have fatal consequences for Bulgaria's national security," he argued. MS CZECH PREMIER IN BULGARIA. Milos Zeman and his Bulgarian host, Ivan Kostov, have signed an agreement on combating organized crime and terrorism, AP reported on 17 March. The same day, Finance Ministers Ivo Svoboda and Muravei Radev signed an accord on mutual protection of investments. Zeman told Kostov that Prague has suspended a plan to introduce entry visas for Bulgaria and Romania. He also expressed support for Bulgaria's bid to join NATO and the EU. MS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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