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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 66, Part II, 6 April 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 66, Part II, 6 April 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 * BELARUS HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS * U.S. DEMANDS REVERSAL OF ETHNIC CLEANSING * AIRLIFT BEGINS OF STRANDED REFUGEES xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE BELARUS HOLDS LOCAL ELECTIONS... Belarus held local elections on 4 April, in which 26,883 candidates were running for 24,524 seats on city and village councils. The elections were boycotted by major opposition parties whose leading activists have been de facto barred from taking part in the race by a decree issued by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). "Some 90 percent of constituencies have only one candidate, like in Soviet times," Yury Khadyka from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front told Reuters. According to preliminary data from the Central Electoral Commission on 5 April, the election turnout was 66.3 percent. JM ...WHILE OSCE SLAMS THEM AS UNDEMOCRATIC. Hans-Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE mission in Minsk, said on 5 April that the local election law in Belarus "cannot provide for a free and fair election process." According to Wieck, Lukashenka has "changed the character of elections from a democratically organized, competitive event...to an event characterized by the interest of the state in organizing political support for its institutions and leaders." Wieck denied that the OSCE sent its official observers to watch the elections, saying that his mission monitored the vote as part of its regular work in studying human rights in Belarus. JM LUKASHENKA ORDERS DIPLOMACY TO PROMOTE ECONOMIC INTERESTS. At a meeting with the Foreign Ministry senior staff on 5 April, Lukashenka demanded that diplomats step up their work to promoting Belarusian economic interests abroad, Belarusian Television reported. Citing Belarus's negative trade balance with a dozen countries, Lukashenka said he will assess diplomatic work on the basis of "practical results" in Belarus's foreign trade and threatened to replace some ineffectual ambassadors. Interfax reported that Lukashenka urged the Foreign Ministry to normalize relations with the U.S. by offering Washington the "tactics of small steps toward one another." JM KUCHMA REJECTS APPEALS FOR MILITARY AID TO YUGOSLAVIA... Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on a visit to Zaporizhzhya on 5 April condemned appeals by some Ukrainian politicians to provide military assistance to Yugoslavia in the Kosova crisis. "Only politicians who have neither soul nor heart can call for armed assistance to Yugoslavia," UNIAN quoted Kuchma as saying. Kuchma's statement is seen as a response to parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko's pronouncement in St. Petersburg on 2 April that Ukraine should send "humanitarian, food, medical, and first of all military aid" to Yugoslavia. JM ...PLEDGES NOT TO CHANGE RELATIONS WITH NATO... Tkachenko also announced in St. Petersburg that the Supreme Council will discuss Ukrainian-NATO relations on 6 April and adopt a resolution introducing a "drastic change" in those relations, Interfax reported. Kuchma responded in Zaporizhzhya that any resolution by the parliament on Kyiv's relations with the alliance "will under no circumstances affect those relations. We believe that we are implementing a balanced policy in our relations with NATO," Kuchma added. Meanwhile, the parliament on 6 April failed to approve a resolution calling on the cabinet to suspend cooperation with NATO and condemning the "aggressive character" of NATO's strikes against Yugoslavia, AP reported. JM ...VETOES LAWS ON UTILITY PRICE HIKES, PENSION HIKES. The Ukrainian president vetoed a law on utility price hikes passed by the parliament on 17 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999). The law obliges the cabinet to ask the parliament for permission to raise utility prices and bans the cabinet from such initiatives until it fully pays its wage and pension arrears. Kuchma has also vetoed a law passed by the parliament last month, which raises the minimum monthly pension from 16.6 hryvni ($4.20) to 55 hryvni. The president argues that Ukraine cannot afford the hike, adding that the law would only increase the current pension arrears of 2.3 billion ($585 million), AP reported on 5 April. JM ESTONIAN PRESIDENT SEES IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW. Lennart Meri said in an interview with "Izvestiya" that while Russian and Estonian leaders have not met since 1994, "bilateral relations are not at a standstill," BNS reported on 3 April. Meri argued that far more important than personal contacts between heads of state is a "firm legal basis for bilateral relations. Heads of state come and go, but the legal foundations in the form of various agreements and treaties they've created will remain." With regard to last year's amendments to Estonia's citizenship laws, Meri said he currently sees "no need for further changes." Meanwhile, on 5 April, Prime Minister Mart Laar agreed to become Estonian co- chairman of the Estonian-Russian intergovernmental commission. JC ESTONIA TO SEND ONLY PEACE-KEEPERS TO YUGOSLAVIA. Defense Minister Juri Luik said on Estonian Television that Tallinn will send troops to Kosova only as peace- keepers after the warring sides have concluded a truce, BNS reported on 3 April. Meanwhile, one of the organizers of the rallies outside the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn told the news agency that city authorities have given the Union of Russian Citizens permission to continue to hold protests outside the embassy later this week. JC LATVIAN BANKS POST HUGE LOSSES. "Diena" reported on 6 April that the losses sustained by Latvian banks last year exceeded the most pessimistic official forecasts. According to information released by the Central Bank, Latvian banks--including those, such as the Riga Commercial Bank, whose activities were suspended--lost a total of 120 million lats (some $203 million) in 1998. On a more optimistic note, only one of the more than two dozen still functioning banks was unable to meet the legal requirement of capital and reserves totaling at least 2 million lats. On 3 April, "Diena" quoted the president of the Association of Latvian Commercial Banks as saying that the "panic and rumors about the instability of Latvian banks" in the wake of the Russian financial crisis and the more recent problems experienced by the Riga Commercial Bank are "groundless." JC LANDSBERGIS WANTS POLITICAL PRESSURE PUT ON BELGRADE. Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis said on 2 April that he is in favor of "political protests and pressure on the Belgrade government" as a means of stopping the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosova, ELTA and BNS reported. Landsbergis, who was speaking after a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 1999), added that since Lithuanians had a similar experience under Soviet rule, "we should speak up." He also argued that the Russian authorities' failure to deal with the crimes of their predecessors is having an influence on the current situation. Also on 2 April, Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius urged the president to put aside all "non- essential and personal matters" and to convene as soon as possible the Councils of State Defense and Coordination of Foreign Policy to discuss the situation in Kosova and relations between Russia and NATO. JC POLISH GOVERNMENT TO LIMIT MEDIA ACCESS. Grzegorz Michniewicz, an official in the prime minister's office, has said the freedom of movement for journalists and other persons in the cabinet office area will be restricted under the law on the protection of classified information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 1999), PAP reported on 5 April. According to new rules, journalists will have no access to the area adjoining the cabinet meeting room, while ministers will not be available for comments before cabinet meetings. "The prime minister's office should not be a place where journalists lie by the walls in the evening or play cards," the 6 April "Gazeta Wyborcza" quoted Michniewicz as saying. JM CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES NATO OVERFLIGHTS. At an extraordinary meeting on 2 April, the government approved a request by NATO for its military aircraft to overfly Czech territory, CTK reported. Czech air space had already been used by NATO refueling planes on the basis of an earlier agreement. The cabinet empowered Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy to oversee the use of the air space by the NATO planes and said the use will be governed by Czech regulations. Deputy Premier Egon Lansky on the same day told journalists that the cabinet's decision was not unanimous, and four ministers had abstained. MS HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FEARS CONFLICT WITH SERBIA. "It cannot be in the interest of the Serbian leadership to generate any conflict with Hungary, as this would entail the most disadvantageous consequences, both politically and militarily," Janos Martonyi told journalists on 4 April. If Serbia is to take any "irrational action," Hungary is "under the full protection of NATO," he added. Some 320 refugees have arrived to date in Hungary from Yugoslavia, Istvan Erdelyi, deputy director of the Migration Office told "Magyar Hirlap" on 5 April. Meanwhile, the opposition Free Democrats and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee released a joint statement asking the cabinet to grant refugee status to ethnic Hungarians from Vojvodina so that they can legally work in Hungary. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE U.S. DEMANDS REVERSAL OF ETHNIC CLEANSING... President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 5 April that NATO air strikes will continue "unceasing and unrelenting" until Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agrees to make peace and let the Kosovars go home and govern themselves. "A commitment to cease killing and a [Kosova] denied its freedom and devoid of its people is not acceptable," he added. "We know we are up against a dictator who has shown time and again that he would rather rule over rubble than not rule at all, someone who recognizes no limits on his behavior except those imposed by others. If Mr. Milosevic does not do what is necessary, NATO will continue an air campaign," Clinton concluded. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stressed that "we seek the withdrawal of Milosevic's military police and paramilitary forces, the return of all refugees, the deployment of an international security force, and the creation of a democratic political framework" in Kosova. PM ...AS DOES U.K. British Defense Secretary George Robertson told the BBC on 6 April that Milosevic is "paying a very heavy price" after 13 days of NATO air strikes aimed at reversing his policies of ethnic cleansing. "Day after day we are weakening [Milosevic's military] machine and we will eventually change his behavior. He will have to recognize we are not going to go away." Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in London the previous day that "Milosevic must withdraw his army, his special police, and his paramilitary thugs and cooperate with an international force." Then, warning Milosevic directly, he added: "I will tell you, don't begin offering peace unless you are prepared to reverse the ethnic cleansing of the war. NATO will not accept peace in [Kosova] without the population" of that province back in its homes. Cook stressed that "NATO's campaign will continue until the refugees can return to their homes with international protection." PM U.S. TO STRIKE SERBIAN ARMOR. On April 5, NATO forces completed their 13th consecutive day of air strikes against Serbian targets. Earlier, Clinton ordered 24 Apache helicopters and 2,000 support troops to Albania. A Pentagon spokesman said that the helicopters will enable NATO to attack Serbian tanks regardless of the weather. The previous day, the Pentagon confirmed that the aircraft carrier "U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt" is on its way to the Adriatic. Sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed the Yugoslav and Serbian Interior Ministries in central Belgrade on 2 April. PM MORE EVIDENCE OF MASS EXECUTIONS. Foreign journalists and OSCE monitors in Albania and Macedonia report that the stories of ethnic cleansing and mass executions told by Kosovar refugees are remarkably uniform, the "International Herald Tribune" wrote on 6 April. Reporters noted that the long lines of arriving refugees contain few military-age men. The BBC the previous day quoted refugees as saying that the Serbian forces frequently use Kosovars as human shields and rape women. Other refugees noted that there were few, if any, Kosovars left in Prishtina, Mitrovica, and several other towns. Reporters added that Gjakova can be seen burning from Kukes. One refugee smuggled out a grisly video of what he said were the bodies of some 26 farmers near Rahovec, whom Serbian forces executed at close range. Cook said in London that the video "underlines the murderous brutality [of] the ethnic cleansing...It is exactly the type of atrocity that underlines the need for the military action." PM FLOOD OF REFUGEES CONTINUES. Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov said in Skopje on 3 April that Macedonia cannot accept more than 20,000 Kosovars without "endangering its own security." NATO officials in Brussels announced that the alliance will immediately begin an intensive program of refugee relief. Of the 120,000 refugees who fled to Macedonia as of 6 April, some 85,000 are stranded in the no-man's land at Blace or Jaznice. Thousands more are believed to be en route. A NATO spokesman said in Brussels on 3 April that Kosova will be "completely empty" in 10-20 days if the Serbs continue to expel civilians at the present rate. The BBC reported three days later that "half the population of [Kosova] has fled or is fleeing." NATO officials have repeatedly charged that Milosevic is trying to destabilize neighboring countries by flooding them with refugees. PM AIRLIFT BEGINS OF STRANDED REFUGEES. Separate flights of refugees left Skopje airport for Turkey and Norway in the early hours of 6 April. Some refugees on the plane to Turkey said that they had been "forced" into leaving and had no opportunity to contact relatives waiting for them in Macedonia or to find their relatives among other refugees. Germany has agreed to take 40,000 Kosovars, while the U.S. and Turkey will house 20,000 each. Norway, which holds the rotating OSCE chair, will take 6,000, while Greece and Canada will accept 5,000 each. On 4 April, Albright said that the refugees should be housed as close as possible to Kosova to facilitate their eventual return. PM ALBANIA READY TO ACCEPT REFUGEES FROM MACEDONIA. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told public television on 5 April that the government decided the same day to accept an additional 100,000 refugees stranded in the Kosova- Macedonian border area. Information Minister Musa Ulqini added that "the number of Kosova refugees of all ages who are starving to death [there] is growing." In a separate statement in Tirana, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said that the Albanian authorities are deeply worried about the condition of Kosovar refugees in Macedonia. He stressed that "the Macedonian authorities are not showing proper care for them." The BBC reported that the Macedonian authorities seem "indifferent" to the refugees' plight. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Skopje said that significant airlifts are some days off, due to logistical problems on the ground. FS ALBANIAN PRESIDENT URGES NATO TO HELP DISPLACED PERSONS INSIDE KOSOVA. Rexhep Meidani suggested in an interview with the Paris-based daily "Liberation" of 2 April that NATO send forces into Kosova to help displaced persons there. Meidani also proposed that NATO help those hiding in the forests by parachuting in food aid. He stressed that "we are prepared to put our infrastructure-- including airports and all other important facilities-- at the disposal of NATO units," adding that Albania will also offer troops if the alliance wishes. FS U.S. SETS UP LARGE RELIEF CAMP NEAR TIRANA. U.S. troops on 5 April began building a camp near Tirana airport to handle relief operations for Kosovar refugees, Reuters reported. U.S. military transport planes brought in supplies and equipment. A total of 6,000 U.S. troops will run the relief operation. According to government estimates on 5 April, a total of 223,000 displaced persons have sought refuge in Albania since 1998, ATSH reported. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the UN's World Food Program said in Tirana that food distribution to Albania is now proceeding apace. He added that NATO intends to have "a full air bridge of 10 flights a day" into Tirana by 7 April. Transport inside Albania, however, remains a problem due to lack of trucks. French troops, meanwhile, started sending 12 tons of food from Tirana to the northern town of Kukes each day by helicopter. FS BLAIR PLEDGES BACKING FOR MONTENEGRO. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Montenegrin Television on 5 April that "Milosevic must know that we stand ready to support the people of Montenegro. If he thinks that he can take you on, he will pay a very heavy price." Asked about Western policy toward Montenegro, Blair replied: "I think because of the stand that President [Milo] Djukanovic has taken, the sense of responsibility that we all have towards Montenegro is all the greater. The fact that you have stood out against Milosevic and refused to agree to his policy of ethnic cleansing has enormously increased the respect and support for Montenegro." Blair referred to Milosevic as a "brutal, bloody dictator" and added: "We cannot allow a dictator to drive people in their hundreds of thousands from their homes, butcher them, maim them, torture them, dump them on surrounding countries and sit idly by." In Podgorica, a pro-Milosevic rally took place on 4 April without incident. PM WHAT IS GOING ON WITH RUGOVA? Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 5 April that he wants to leave Kosova "to help this situation for the Serbian side and for the [ethnic] Albanian side." Asked by reporters whether he is indeed under house arrest, Rugova replied: "I have here Serbian security," the "Los Angeles Times" wrote (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1999). Russian Ambassador to Yugoslavia Yurii Kotov told Russian journalists that Rugova "is getting assistance from the Serbian authorities because his life is in real danger that comes from those extremists who believe that Rugova has betrayed the interests of the Albanian people," ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, a NATO spokesman said in Brussels that Rugova held his recent meeting with Milosevic under duress and that Serbian Television's footage of the two together was two years old. The Yugoslav government said in a statement on 2 April that the meeting "is just one more confirmation" of Belgrade's intentions "to reach a settlement by peaceful means and through dialogue." PM SERBS SEEK MEETING OF SECURITY COUNCIL. SFOR troops on 3 April destroyed part of the Belgrade-Bar railway line that runs through Bosnia in order to deny Serbian forces access to Bosnia or Montenegro. Two days later, the Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb governments announced that they want the UN Security Council to investigate the attack on the railway. Serbian spokesmen called the attack a "violation of the Dayton agreement," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES ANTI-CRISIS PROGRAM. The government on 5 April released details of a program aimed at overcoming the country's economic crisis that involves closing down loss-making enterprises and massive layoffs, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The program is to be discussed on 7 April at a meeting with the opposition in the absence of convalescing Premier Radu Vasile, who was released from hospital on 6 April. On 1 April, Transportation Minister Traian Basescu said that about 100,000 people will lose their jobs. Standard & Poor's on 2 April lowered the country risk grading for long-term and short-term deposits in Romanian national currency from B plus to B and from B to C, respectively. Also on 2 April, the General Electric Capital and the Banco Portugues de Investimento signed a $43 million deal to acquire a 45 percent stake in Romania's Bancpost. MS ROMANIA DENIES NATO AIRCRAFT USING ITS AIR SPACE. The Defense Ministry on 2 April denied a "Newsweek" report saying that NATO aircraft have passed through Romanian air space on their way to bombing raids in Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. President Emil Constantinescu, in an interview with "Monitorul de Iasi," said that Romania's chances of achieving integration into NATO "have been fortified" as a result of the Kosova conflict, Mediafax reported. On 5 April, the Timisoara airport was reopened, but on 6 April the national railway company announced it was temporarily suspending trains between Bucharest and Belgrade "as a consequence of the Yugoslav events and of low demand." MS NATO OFFICIAL VISITS ROMANIA, BULGARIA. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Sergio Balanzino met in Bucharest on 5 April with Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, Defense Minister Victor Babiuc, and President Emil Constantinescu, and later that day met in Sofia with President Petar Stoyanov. Both Plesu and Babiuc (who has been standing in for ailing Premier Radu Vasile since 2 April) told Balanzino that Romania needs international help in order to shelter refugees from Yugoslavia. Babiuc said Romania was willing to accept 6,000 refugees if it received the necessary aid, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. After meeting Stoyanov, Balanzino said that NATO "does not expect Bulgaria to act as a NATO member" but "Bulgaria is a front-line state" and "communication and coordination between us will continue." MS KOSTOV SAYS BULGARIA CANNOT SHELTER MORE KOSOVAR REFUGEES... Speaking after an extraordinary meeting with the parliamentary groups leaders, Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov on 4 April said that because of its economic problems, Bulgaria will not be able to shelter many more ethnic Albanians fleeing from Kosova. "Pressing Bulgaria to accept more refugees would mean to export the conflict," he said. There are reportedly a few thousand Kosovar refugees in Bulgaria and a few thousand more have transited the country to other destinations. Kostov said that Bulgaria could, however, host for a week some 5,000 potential refugees from the Bulgarian minority in Yugoslavia, or Macedonian refugees, if the warfare spreads to that country, AP and Reuters reported. ITAR- TASS reported on 5 April that the National Security Council, at a meeting chaired by Kostov, decided to close its borders to Kosovar refugees. MS ...AND TALBOTT 'UNDERSTANDS' THE DECISION. "We understand and respect the decisions that have already been taken, this is a dynamic situation," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot told journalists after meeting Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 5 April, Reuters reported. Mihailova said Bulgaria "appeals to the U.S. government to guarantee that the conflict will not spread in the region," since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic aims at "exporting the conflict through refugees." Talbott said the U.S. and NATO were "very grateful" to Bulgaria for its "understanding and support" of the operations in Yugoslavia, adding that Sofia is "not just a good friend and partner of the U.S., but also a promising and credible candidate for eventual membership in NATO." President Stoyanov urged Talbott to consider the early admission of Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania to NATO to create "a security belt around Yugoslavia." MS MOLDOVA SATISFIED WITH CIS SUMMIT RESULTS. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea on 5 April told journalists that President Petru Lucinschi considers the results of the Moscow CIS summit to be "positive." Golea said that an agreement has been reached to hold an 8 April meeting in Kyiv between Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, and Lucinschi in order to give "new impetus" to the settling of the Transdniester conflict. He said that Lucinschi is also satisfied with the summit's decision to establish an all-CIS free-trade zone. Golea stressed that the Yugoslav crisis has not been discussed at the summit, but the Moldovan delegation there "refuted information" that Moldova was supporting the NATO air strikes, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS CORRECTION: The name of the Communist deputy mentioned in the item "Moldovan Communists Block Parliament Resolution on Kosova" on 2 April is Victor Stepaniuc, and not Vasile Nedelciuc, as mistakenly reported. 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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