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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 96, Part II, 18 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 96, Part II, 18 May 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 * FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER IMPLICATED IN MICHAL KOVAC JR. KIDNAPPING * RUGOVA SAYS AGREEMENT WITH MILUTINOVIC 'MEANINGLESS' * DJUKANOVIC: NO PEACE WITH MILOSEVIC End Note: SCHUSTER LIKELY TO DEFEAT MECIAR IN RUN-OFF xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE EU URGES BELARUS TO RELEASE JAILED OPPOSITIONIST. EU foreign ministers on 17 May urged the Belarusian government to enter political talks with the opposition and immediately set free Mikhail Chyhir, the former prime minister jailed on charges of "grand larceny" and abuse of office in his capacity as head of a bank in 1994. Chyhir was arrested at the end of March after announcing his intention to run in the May unauthorized presidential elections in Belarus. He was nominated prime minister by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1994 and resigned in 1996 to protest violations of the law during the constitutional referendum that immensely expanded Lukashenka's powers. Observers believe Chyhir's arrest was politically motivated. JM CRIMEAN TATARS TO CONVERGE ON SIMFEROPOL. Thousands of Crimean Tatars are marching toward Crimea's capital, Simferopol, in marches that began in seven towns throughout the peninsula earlier this month. The Tatars are demanding that they receive more rights. They also want to mark the 55th anniversary of the deportation of Tatars to Central Asia on 18 May 1944. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had accused them of collaboration with Nazi Germany. According to estimates, there are some 270,000 Tatars among Crimea's 2.5 million population, including tens of thousands who do not have Ukrainian citizenship. Crimean Tatars demand proportional representation in the Crimean parliament, the recognition of their language as one of the official languages on the peninsula, and the legalization of their traditional self-governing bodies, the Kurultay and Mejlis. JM UKRAINE'S FOREIGN TRADE SHRINKS. Ukraine's exports from January-March decreased to $2.43 billion, down by 11.4 percent from the same period last year, Ukrainian News reported, citing official data. Imports in the first quarter of 1999 fell to $2.89 billion, down 18.9 percent compared with 1998. JM BRZEZINSKI SAYS NATO SHOULD CONSIDER BALTIC STATES SEPERATELY. Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told BNS on 16 May that NATO should consider admitting the Baltic States separately and not as a group. "I don't think there is a basis for saying [about] any region of Europe that all of the countries of the region should be taken in or not. I think each country has to qualify on its own merits," said Brzezinski, who was attending the Baltic Development Forum in Copenhagen. He also argued that it will be easier for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to eventually enter the alliance if they are considered separately. But he was "more doubtful" as to whether they will be ready for membership by 2002. "I think Lithuania might be ready, but I am not sure all three will be," he said. Speaking at RFE/RL headquarters last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999), Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis had urged NATO to admit the three Baltic States simultaneously. JC CONTROVERSY IN ESTONIA OVER ELITE MILITARY UNIT. Estonian army commander Lieutenant-General Johannes Kert has suspended the activities of the Defense Forces' Special Operations Group (SOG) following the alleged participation of its acting commander, Indrek Holm, in an attempted robbery near Tallinn on 15 May, ETA reported on 18 May. Holm received gunshot wounds to the head and remains in a coma. Defense Minister Jurii Luik had demanded that the unit's activities be ceased following the incident. Parliamentary Defense Commission chairman Enn Tarto has admitted that secrecy surrounds the SOG and that his commission has no information about its composition or to whom it is subordinated. According to "Eesti Paevaleht," police suspect that Holm was also involved in two unsolved robberies over the past 18 months, an RFE/RL correspondent in Tallinn reported. JC GORBUNOVS TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. Minister of Transport Anatolijs Gorbunovs on 17 May announced he has agreed to accept the nomination of Latvia's Way as its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, LETA reported. The 56-year-old Gorbunovs had long been hesitating over whether to accept that nomination (which was made before last fall's general elections), citing his past as a former high-ranking communist official. He is the third candidate in the race, along with Janis Priedkalns of the Fatherland and Freedom Party, a former Australian national and current Latvian ambassador to the UN, and Vaira Paegle of the People's Party, a parliamentary deputy who holds both U.S. and Latvian citizenship. The incumbent, Ulmanis, is barred from seeking a third term in office. JC IGNALINA TO BE SHUT DOWN TEMPORARILY. Lithuania's Ignalina nuclear power plant is preparing to shut down temporarily because of its failure to meet a 17 May deadline to acquire an operating license for one of its two reactors, Reuters and BNS reported. Saulius Kutas, the head of Lithuania's State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate, told a news conference the same day that the plant has failed to provide documents on the implementation of some safety regulations and is expected to take a month to complete licensing procedures. The plant "has to prepare, according to the regulations and procedures, to safely shut down Unit One," Kutas said. The plant's second reactor was closed earlier this year for routine maintenance and is expected to re-open in the summer. Ignalina has two Soviet-era RBMK-type reactors. The EU, among others, has repeatedly expressed concern about safety at the plant. JC EBRD TO INVEST NEARLY $400 MILLION IN POLAND THIS YEAR. Horst Koehler, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said on 17 May that the bank will invest 370 million euros ($395 million) in Poland this year, PAP reported. The EBRD is to focus on projects promoting small and medium-size enterprises in Poland. It will also support restructuring processes in economically promising giants such as the Sendzimir and Katowice steel mills, LOT airlines, Nafta Polska, and the PKP state railways. Since 1991, the EBRD has allocated 1.3 billion euros for 83 investment projects in Poland. JM POLISH LEFT-WING'S POPULARITY GROWING. Support for the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is at its highest level since the party lost power in the 1997 parliamentary elections. A poll conducted by the PBS agency last week for "Rzeczpospolita" showed that backing for the SLD rose to 38 percent from 36 percent last month, while the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action's (AWS) support decreased to 27 percent, down from 29 percent in April. The Freedom Union (UW), the AWS's coalition partner, saw its popularity grow by 1 percent to 11 percent. In the 1997 elections, the AWS received 33.8 percent support, the SLD 27 percent, and the UW 13.4 percent. Commentators attribute the declining support for the ruling coalition to social discontent over ambitious reforms in health care, education, and the pension system launched by the government this year. JM CZECH CABINET TO FINANCE LETY MONUMENT. The Czech government on 18 May agreed to spend 1 million crowns ($28,600) on improvements to the monument in Lety marking the site of a World War II forced labor camp for Roma, Czech media reported. Recently, the Czech cabinet rejected a proposal to remove a pig farm from the area, arguing that such a project would be too expensive. In response, the Romany National Congress has organized a boycott of Czech pork (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 1999). In other news, Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich on 17 May said the British ambassador in Prague has warned him that London may impose visa restrictions on the Czech Republic owing to a large increase in the number of Czech emigres to Britain, "Pravo" reported on 18 May. A total of 99 Czech citizens, along with their 109 relatives, applied for immigration in Britain in April -- the largest number for any one month since 1996. Czech diplomats cited by "Pravo" say the majority of these emigres are Roma. VG CZECHS LAGGING BEHIND IN EU ACCESSION PREPARATIONS. The Czech government on 17 May approved an economic strategy paper for accession to the EU, "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 18 May. But Deputy Prime Minister Egon Lansky, who is responsible for the country accession to the EU, said several ministries are falling behind in preparations for EU membership. Lansky is the third minister to complain recently about the Czech Republic's EU preparations, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 18 May. VG FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER IMPLICATED IN MICHAL KOVAC JR. KIDNAPPING... Former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) official Jaroslav Svechota has implicated Vladimir Meciar in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son, TASR reported on 17 May. Svechota has sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda asking to be pardoned for his role in the abduction of Michal Kovac Jr. In the letter, he stated that then SIS chief Ivan Lexa ordered him to kidnap Michal Kovac Jr. and mentioned Meciar three times in connection with the case. Lexa and Svechota are both being held in custody. Police investigator Jaroslav Ivor, who revealed the contents of the letter at a 17 May press conference, rejected the possibility that Svechota was under psychological pressure to testify. On 12 May, Svechota had complained that his own defense lawyer was putting him under such pressure. VG ...DENIES INVOLVEMENT. Meciar, however, has denied any involvement in the abduction of former President Kovac's son, saying Ivor was "exceeding the boundaries set by the law and democracy." Meciar said that the cabinet does not run the SIS and merely receives regular reports on the activities of the service. Meanwhile, the Regional Court of Bratislava rejected Lexa's appeal against the District Court's decision to take him into custody. The court argued that if Lexa were released, he might try to influence witnesses or others involved in the case. In other news, two gunshots were fired at the home of former Finance Minister Miroslav Maxon in the western Slovak town of Trencin on 16 May, AP reported the next day. Nobody was injured in the incident and police are investigating. Maxon is a member of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. VG HUNGARY OPPOSES INVASION OF YUGOSLAVIA FROM NORTH. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said on 17 May that the Hungarian leadership is against the use of Hungary as a launching site for any potential NATO ground operation against Yugoslavia. He said an invasion from the north appears relatively smooth in military terms and could be an effective solution, but the political risk is high. A ground operation "is not in our interest in Central Europe," Martonyi said, adding that "this war can be won from the air." In other news, ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina are working on an autonomy concept and want to ensure that the status of the province is included in an eventual peace agreement on Kosova, Laszlo Jozsa, deputy chairman of the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians, told Hungarian media on 17 May. MSZ RUSSIAN-HUNGARIAN OIL TRANSIT TALKS. Acting Russian Trade Minister Georgii Gabunia said Russia is engaged in talks with Budapest over the transport of "metal items" and oil products through Hungary to Yugoslavia, RIA Novosti reported on 17 May. He reproached Hungary for employing "discriminatory transit terms." If the parties fail to come to an agreement, Gabunia said, Russia may retaliate with trade sanctions. VG SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE RUGOVA SAYS AGREEMENT WITH MILUTINOVIC 'MEANINGLESS.' Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 17 May that he signed a declaration with Serbian President Milan Milutinovic in Belgrade on 28 April under duress. The declaration called for a resumption of talks between Serbian government and Kosovar representatives aimed at establishing wide-ranging autonomy for the province and respecting the territorial integrity of Serbia. Rugova stressed that "whatever I signed in Belgrade is meaningless." He added that he put his signature to the document to protect his family, which was under Serbian house arrest, along with him. Rugova stressed that NATO air strikes must continue until the alliance achieves its objectives. He said that he does not recognize the provisional Kosovar government of Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) leader Hashim Thaci. And he said he will invite Kosovar leaders, including UCK representatives, to Bonn to negotiate forming a new Kosovar government. FS ALBANIA'S ULQINI DEFENDS RECOGNITION OF THACI GOVERNMENT. In an interview to RFE/RL on 17 May, Albanian Information Minister Musa Ulqini dismissed opposition charges that the Albanian government has politically divided the Kosovar Albanians by its 12 May recognition of the Thaci government. Ulqini stressed that the Albanian government has engaged itself to achieve "the unification of [the rival Kosovar political groups]. This is what we achieved in Rambouillet, where the [Kosovar] Albanians...managed to present a united stand." He added that "we recognize the agreement [reached by the members of the Kosovar Albanian delegation after the Rambouillet talks] on the creation of a provisional government. We remain engaged in this process and we are convinced that very soon all the Kosovar political and military groups will [form a joint] representation that has the support of everybody." FS CONTINUING CLASHES ALONG ALBANIAN BORDER. Serbian forces shelled Albanian army tanks near Letaj in the Has Mountains on 17 May, prompting those vehicles to withdraw four kilometers behind the border, AP reported. In Kukes, Albanian army reinforcements arrived, including multiple rocket launchers. Elsewhere, NATO planes attacked Serbian positions in Planeja, between Kukes and Prizren, Reuters reported. Nearby at the Morina border crossing, only a few dozen refugees crossed into Albania. Several of them reported atrocities and arbitrary killings by Serbian forces. Officials of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said refugees continue to oppose efforts to evacuate them from Kukes to safer places in central and southern Albania. Most of those refusing to leave say they are waiting for relatives still inside Kosova. FS U.K.: TIME TO CONSIDER GROUND TROOPS FOR KOSOVA. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Sofia on 17 May that NATO will continue its campaign against Serbia and will use "whatever it takes" to achieve its goals, "The Guardian" reported. In Brussels, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook argued that the allies will "not hang around waiting for [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic to give us a written invitation" to send in ground forces. Cook added that NATO forces should go into the province as soon as Serbian forces can no longer offer "organized resistance." He suggested that intervention should take place well before the harsh Balkan winter sets in, the "New York Times" quoted him as saying. Cook also charged that Serbian forces used Kosovar civilians as human shields in the recent incident at Korisa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). The foreign secretary noted that he knows of at least 80 cases of Serbian forces using civilians as human shields. PM DJUKANOVIC: NO PEACE WITH MILOSEVIC. Most of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 17 May had little sympathy for Cook's views and stressed instead the importance of finding a diplomatic solution quickly, "The Guardian" reported (see also Part I). Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told the ministers that any final settlement "must be signed by someone other" than Milosevic in order to be credible, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic added that Milosevic seeks to destabilize Montenegro by sending in some 45,000 Yugoslav army troops and trying to censor state-run television. The Montenegrin president stressed that he condemns all violence, including that by Milosevic, the Kosovar guerrillas, and NATO. The EU ministers promised Djukanovic more than $13 million in refugee relief. They gave "no details of how the money would be channeled to Podgorica to prevent it falling into the hands" of Belgrade, "The Independent" reported. PM YUGOSLAV ARMY MOVES INTO CETINJE. Several hundred Yugoslav army troops recently entered Cetinje, the traditional political stronghold of Montenegrins favoring independence from Serbia, Reuters reported on 17 May. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said that the army "wants to demonstrate that by controlling Cetinje that they control the [entire] country. People in Montenegro are generally armed...[and] they are particularly heavily armed in Cetinje." He urged local people not to respond to any "provocation" by the army and stressed that "whoever starts [a conflict in Montenegro] will end up the big loser." There are some 26,000 Yugoslav army troops in Montenegro. Djukanovic's police number about 12,000. PM KOSOVAR MALES FREED IN MONTENEGRO. Yugoslav forces returned more than 100 Kosovar males to their families in Rozaje on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). Montenegrin officials said that the release came after the Yugoslav army "checked" the men for their possible links to the UCK. Yugoslav troops recently took the men off busses en route from Montenegro to Albania. Elsewhere, a Georgian-registered ship carrying flour arrived on 17 May in Dubrovnik. The flour will be transferred to trucks and taken to Montenegro by road. They Yugoslav navy had prevented the ship from docking at Montenegro's port of Bar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). PM LARGE GROUPS OF DISPLACED PERSONS IN KOSOVA. NATO officials said in Brussels on 17 May that a total of 70,000 displaced persons are gathered in the areas around Junik and to the west of Ferizaj and that these people appear to be en route to Albania. Another group of about 40,000 Kosovars is "trapped" in the region between Ferizaj and Gjilan, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. At Blace, on the Macedonian border, Serbian authorities ordered back into Kosova a train carrying some 2,000 persons who boarded in Prishtina and Ferizaj. A UN spokesman at Blace said that he does not know what happened to the people on the train. He added that "this is quite a worrisome development." In Skopje, President Kiro Gligorov said that "it is important" for the international community to send abroad at least 100,000 of the estimated 230,000 Kosovar refugees in his country. PM WESTENDORP: KOSOVA NEEDS INTERNATIONAL PROTECTORATE. Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, told the UN Security Council in New York on 17 May that Kosova needs "a real protectorate in order to protect the refugees coming back to their homes." He stressed that any international mandate in Kosova should be "much shorter and more robust" than the one in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 1999). Westendorp argued that the international community must control the administration, police, and army in Kosova, which it did not do in Bosnia. He concluded that "there will be no long-term solution or stable solution if Milosevic remains in place for a long time, because it will mean there is no democracy in the region. And without democracy, the problems of the region are not going to be solved." PM ROMANIAN OPPOSITION SUBMITS CENSURE MOTION. A group of deputies and senators from the Social Democracy Party of Romania, the Greater Romania Party, and the Romanian National Unity Party have submitted a censure motion against the government, which they accuse of seeking to by-pass the parliament in attempting to push through legislation on economic reform, Rompres reported on 17 May. The move comes in response to the cabinet's decision to accelerate the passage of a package of economic reforms by linking it to a vote of confidence in the government. The package of measures, which is in line with IMF recommendations, is aimed at speeding up economic reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 1999). The opposition said the government's reforms would generate chaos and encourage corruption. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Radu Vasile's coalition government is expected to survive the motion, Reuters reported on 17 May. VG MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SUPPORT IN REFERENDUM. Petru Lucinschi has called on voters to support his bid to increase the powers of the president in a 23 May non- binding referendum on changing the constitution, Infotag reported on 17 May. Lucinschi said the current "state mechanisms do not work properly" and that presidential rule is needed to "solve problems." He also urged voters to support the candidacy of incumbent Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urecheanu in the 23 May local elections. In other news, officials of Moldova's Gagauz autonomous region signed a bilateral economic and cultural agreement with officials from the republic of Tatarstan in Russia, BASA-Press reported on 17 May. VG BLAIR VISITS BULGARIA. British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 17 May praised Bulgaria's support for NATO's campaign against Yugoslavia and pledged that his country will support moves to speed up Bulgaria's accession into the EU and NATO, international media reported. Blair met with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. Just hours before his arrival, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova criticized the West for employing a strategy of "managing existing crises" in the Balkans over the past few years, rather than implementing a "long-term strategic vision" for the region, Reuters reported on 17 May. She said she hoped this "policy of sending fire brigades will be replaced by a fire-prevention policy." Meanwhile, small group of protesters interrupted Blair's speech at Sofia University and another small group of young Bulgarian Socialists burnt an effigy of the British prime minister in the center of the capital. A majority of Bulgarians are opposed to the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia. VG END NOTE SCHUSTER LIKELY TO DEFEAT MECIAR IN RUN-OFF By Ron Synovitz The first round of voting in Slovakia's presidential election saw Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster and former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar advance to a run-off on 29 May. If turnout is similar to the 74 percent in the 15 May first round, Schuster appears likely to become Slovakia's first directly elected president. According to the Slovak Election Commission, Schuster, who is the official candidate of Slovakia's governing coalition, won 47 percent of the first-round vote, while about 37 percent supported Meciar. Third among the nine candidates was Magda Vasaryova, a former actress who gathered 6.6 percent of the vote on an independent ticket. She was followed by independent Ivan Mjartan, with about 3.6 percent, and Jan Slota of the Slovak National Party, with 2.5 percent. While Meciar could get some votes from backers of Mjartan and Slota in the runoff, their combined cross-over vote would be insufficient to push him ahead of Schuster. Meanwhile, most of Vasaryova's supporters are believed to be vehemently opposed to Meciar. There is little likelihood that the former prime minister will gain votes from them. Yet many of Vasaryova's backers may choose to abstain from the runoff ballot rather than support Schuster. That is largely because of Schuster's background as a member of the Slovak Communist Party's Central Committee before the collapse of communist rule in 1989. Other political leaders who earlier opposed Schuster because of his communist background have now begun announcing their support for him as the "anti- Meciar" candidate. Most important among them is Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky, who chairs the governing coalition's Christian Democratic Movement. Schuster told RFE/RL he expects unity over the run- off within the coalition, which first joined forces to defeat Meciar in parliamentary elections eight months ago. "I think that the citizens had the opportunity to gauge the degree to which we are united," he commented, "and now we shouldn't even talk about unity because there are only two candidates. We have only two possibilities. Either a part of the coalition will support Mr. Meciar or the whole coalition will support me. There is no other alternative.... Now we have to act if we want to confirm the change that happened [in last year's parliamentary elections]." First round exit polls suggest that as many as 92 percent of Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian voters supported Schuster. That development, according to the mayor, shows the strength of the coalition. But he also warned against xenophobic distortions of those statistics. "I have no problem with [the support I have from ethnic Hungarians]. It is Meciar's problem. Meciar separates Slovak society. I unify it. This is the first evidence that the Hungarian minority can support the candidate of a coalition.... The Hungarians have kept their coalition promise. I see only a positive development in that, not negative." Meciar, who was Slovak prime minister for most of the period from 1992 to 1998, helped trigger the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Western leaders often criticized what was seen as the authoritarian manner of his rule, which they cited as the reason Slovakia has not been invited to join either NATO or the front- ranking candidate states for EU membership. But Meciar remains popular in rural communities, and he retains political influence through his allies who still control top management positions in major state companies. Meciar's nationalist rhetoric also could appeal to the unemployed, who have seen little improvement in their economic situation since last year's elections. Tibor Cabaj, parliamentary leader of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said he does not see Meciar's second place as a failure. In fact, the 37 percent of the vote that Meciar gathered was much higher than pre-election polls had predicted. While Slovakia's presidency is largely a ceremonial office, Western business leaders in Bratislava have been watching the ballot closely to determine whether Meciar has a political future in the country. If Meciar loses, one effect could be speedier management reforms at state companies. Such reforms are seen by the IMF and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as a key to increasing productivity and foreign investment in Slovakia. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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