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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 100, Part II, 24 May 1999
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 3, No. 100, Part II, 24 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 * FIRST U.S. F-18 FIGHTERS ARRIVE IN HUNGARY * MACEDONIA BACKS DOWN IN REFUGEE STANDOFF * ANTI-WAR PROTESTS CONTINUE IN SERBIA End Note: CRISIS DEMONSTRATES ESTONIAN MILITARY'S WEAKNESS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE LUKASHENKA WANTS TO WORK WITH CURRENT CABINET UNTIL 2001. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said he will not change his cabinet until the presidential elections in 2001, Belarusian Television reported on 21 May. Rumors about a possible dismissal of the government have been rife following Lukashenka's frequent criticism of the cabinet's performance, in particular its inability to keep down inflation, which neared 60 percent in the first four months of this year. JM BOMB EXPLODES IN COMMUNIST PARTY OFFICE IN CRIMEA. An explosive device containing some 400 grams of TNT went off in the Simferopol office of Leonid Hrach, leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, on 23 May. There were no casualties. Hrach, who is also Crimean parliamentary speaker, said on local television that the explosion was "an act of political vandalism" by an unnamed "third force" trying to provoke clashes between leftists and Crimean Tatars. Hrach appealed to Tatars who have been picketing the government building in Simferopol since 18 May "not to give grounds [by carrying out that action] to those wishing to undermine the situation in Crimea." Tatar Mejlis Deputy Chairman Remzi Ablayev said Crimean Tatars have nothing to do with the blast, ITAR-TASS reported. JM KUCHMA SAYS UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL POLLS WILL BRING NO SURPRISE. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who is seeking re-election in the 31 October polls, appears confident of his victory, assuring foreign investors on 21 May that the situation will remain "predictable" after the elections, Reuters reported. "Ukraine's policy will remain balanced, consecutive, and there will be no throwback," he said. The same day, "Holos Ukrayiny" published Kuchma's 1998 income declaration (the law on presidential elections stipulates that all candidates must submit such information). According to the declaration, Kuchma earned a total of 19,218 hryvni ($4,888 at the current exchange rate) last year. In other news, Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov said Ukraine's foreign debt grew by nearly $1 billion during the last four months to total $12.4 billion. JM ESTONIA SIGNS WTO ACCESSION PAPERS. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 21 May signed the documents on Estonia's accession to the WTO. The parliament must pass 16 legislative acts by 31 October. Estonia's membership in the WTO will become official 30 days after it informs the organization of ratification of all relevant regulations, according to the Foreign Ministry and local dailies. The opposition Rural People's Party opposes ratification owing to provisions on farming agreed upon during negotiations, according to "Aripaev." Latvia became a member of the WTO last year. MH LATVIA'S NEW PARTY NOMINATES PAULS FOR PRESIDENT. The New Party on 22 May nominated party leader and popular composer Raimonds Pauls as its candidate for president. While the party had named Pauls as its presidential nominee before last fall's parliamentary election, Pauls had hinted he was reluctant to run in the presidential ballot. The election is scheduled to take place next month. Incumbent President Guntis Ulmanis is barred from running for a third term. MH WILLIAMS APPROVES LITHUANIAN OIL DEAL. The board of directors of the U.S. company Williams International on 20 May gave final approval to the deal to invest in Mazeikiai Oil. A statement issued by the company's Lithuanian subsidiary reads: "The Williams board of directors voiced clear approval of the transaction under the terms and conditions agreed upon with the Lithuanian government in April." Under that agreement, Williams will take a 33 percent share in Mazeikiai Oil, which includes the Mazeikiai Oil Refinery, the Butinge Oil Platform, and connecting pipelines. The parliament is deliberating increasing Williams International's holdings by another 33 percent after an initial seven- year period, ELTA reported. MH POLISH PEASANT LEADER CALLS FOR UNITY AMONG RURAL POPULATION. Jaroslaw Kalinowski, chairman of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), has called on rural residents to unite. According to Kalinowski, the government ignores peasants' interests and is ready to make any concessions in order to join the EU, regardless of the damage inflicted on the economy. Kalinowski said the PSL will soon present its candidate for the 2000 presidential elections. According to a May poll, the PSL has 11 percent support and is the fourth most popular party in the country. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance has 35 percent backing, the coalition Solidarity Electoral Action 21 percent, and the Freedom Union 13 percent. JM POLISH POLICE DISPERSE PROTESTING MINERS. Police on 24 May used clubs to disperse some 400 miners who had been blocking access to the Finance Ministry to demand increased government subsidies to the coal sector, AP reported. Miners want higher government spending on severance payments and on retraining programs foreseen by the current restructuring plan. The government has already paid 1.7 billion zlotys ($435 million) to some 35,000 miners who lost their jobs or received retraining, but another 18,000 must wait until funds from next year's budget are available. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on 23 May said that the restructuring plan has fallen victim to manipulation by union leaders and mine managers who allowed excessive payments for individual miners in the hope of obtaining more money from the government. JM CZECH REPUBLIC, GREECE SIGN KOSOVA PEACE INITIATIVE. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and his Greek counterpart, George Papandreou, have signed a peace initiative on resolving the Kosova conflict, Czech media reported on 24 May. The initiative, which was signed in Beijing, calls for a 48-hour halt to the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia as well as the withdrawal of most, but not all, Yugoslav forces from Kosova. Chinese Deputy Premier Qian Qichen expressed "understanding" for the initiative, CTK reported on 22 May. Meanwhile, Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus told a Greek newspaper that the NATO campaign has failed and that NATO is now simply trying to "save face," "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 22 May. In other news, Czech President Vaclav Havel's doctors said his bronchitis is slowly receding but that he will remain in hospital for the time being. VG MECIAR'S PARTY SAYS SLOVAK TV BROKE THE LAW... The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has accused Slovak Television (STV) of breaking the electoral law by failing to arrange a debate between the HZDS's candidate for the presidency, former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, and Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, Slovak media reported on 22 May. Originally, the station and representatives of the two politicians had agreed to hold two round-table discussions involving both candidates and two STV moderators. After Schuster refused to confront Meciar in a televised debate, STV decided to have each candidate appear separately in a round-table discussion with journalists. The HZDS claims the decision to change the format of the round-table discussions constitutes "manipulation" aimed at benefiting Schuster. VG ...FILES LAW SUIT AGAINST POLICE INVESTIGATOR. The HZDS has filed a libel suit against the head of the Interior Ministry's investigation department, General Jaroslav Ivor, in connection with his statements implicating Meciar in the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son, CTK reported on 22 May. In an interview with "Mlada fronta Dnes" published on 22 May, Meciar said Slovakia has turned into a police state under the current coalition government. VG FIRST U.S. F-18 FIGHTERS ARRIVE IN HUNGARY. Twenty-four U.S. Marine F-18 air fighters arrived in Hungary on 22 May to take part in the NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia The aircraft will be based at the Tarasz military airport, which is also a staging base for 500 U.S. troops of the UN's SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Meanwhile, the non-parliamentary Workers' Party has asked the Hungarian Constitutional Court to determine whether Budapest's decision to allow NATO to use its airspace and airfields is unconstitutional, according to a 22 May MTI report cited by the BBC. VG HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS DEFEND U.S. AMBASSADOR. Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Peter Tufo has provided "invaluable assistance" to his government, MTI reported on 21 May. Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan noted that Tufo has done a lot to promote Hungary's economic prosperity. The comments came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accepted the resignations of two deputy ministers who had lobbied for the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Hungary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1999). Torgyan, who leads the Independent Smallholders Party, the junior coalition partner, added that it is "inadmissible" that Tufo was "exposed to attacks in Hungary." VG SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE MACEDONIA BACKS DOWN IN REFUGEE STANDOFF. Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees persuaded Macedonian authorities at Blace on 24 May to admit 3,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosova who had spent the night in the rain at the border. The UNHCR representatives also convinced the Macedonian authorities to drop plans to send to Albania at night- time at least three busses filled with Kosovars, AP reported. One UNHCR aid worker said that this was the third time recently that he went to the border "in the middle of the night" to convince Macedonian officials not to deport Kosovars. He did not elaborate. He stressed that any deportation would constitute a violation of existing agreements between the UNHCR and Macedonia. At least 15,000 refugees arrived at the Blace border crossing during the weekend of 22-23 May. Observers noted that this was the largest single wave of new arrivals in several weeks. On 24 May, Reuters reported that the UNHCR expects another 7,000 refugees to arrive in the course of the day. PM FREED KOSOVAR REFUGEES ARRIVE IN ALBANIA 'EMACIATED'... Two groups of male Kosovar refugees whom Serbian authorities recently freed from Smrekonica prison arrived in Albania over the weekend. According to UNHCR officials, 523 men arrived in Morina on 22 May and 506 the following day. Aid workers described the men as being the most haggard and emaciated they had seen, adding that many of them were traumatized. Some of the men appeared to be teenagers, Reuters added. The BBC reported on 24 May that many of the men believed they were going to be killed until they saw the Albanian flag over the border crossing. None was wearing Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) uniform. A UNHCR official said in Tirana on 23 May that Serbian forces abducted most of the men in mid-April when the latter were fleeing Mitrovica with their families. It is unclear why the Serbs freed the men. FS ...REPORTING ATROCITIES. The men reported that Serbian forces had systematically beaten the prisoners' hands, lower abdomen, and knees. They said that each day they spent in captivity, between five and 20 fainted or were seriously injured as a result of the beatings. On the basis of the numbers on their registration cards, the men estimated that the prison held between 2,000 and 3,000 inmates. Some said they were forced to fight with one another using broomsticks, Reuters reported. One man said that the Serbian forces "treated us like animals. They beat us. They cut off some men's ears." He added that the prisoners received no food during the first four days and were given one piece of bread a day thereafter. Some 450 were forced to live in a room measuring some 144 square meters, in which they had space to sit but not to lie down. FS REFUGEES REFUSE TO MOVE FROM KUKES. NATO officials on 21 May again urged the evacuation of the border town of Kukes, saying they "do not want a humanitarian disaster where the Serbs shell one of the refugee camps." The following day, refugees in an Italian-run camp organized their first press conference, stressing they do not want to move from Kukes, Reuters reported. Spokesman Rrahim Imeri told journalists that the dangers for refugees in northern Albania are not higher than they are for the locals. He added that most refugees are traumatized by their ordeal and that they want to stay close to Kosova. Italian camp head Dominico Riccio told Reuters that the conditions in the camp are good. Meanwhile, more than 4,000 refugees from Kosova arrived in Kukes over the weekend. Only 63 had arrived the previous week, a UNHCR spokesman told dpa in Tirana. FS THACI INVITES RUGOVA TO TIRANA. Provisional Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci sent a letter to Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova on 21 May inviting him to Tirana and asking him to recognize the provisional government. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko suggested setting up a National Security Council composed of all Kosovar leaders who participated in the Rambouillet talks, including Thaci, Rugova, and nationalist writer Rexhep Qosja. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter to Majko on 22 May saying: "I want to welcome and encourage your efforts to bring the [Kosovar] political leadership together, and in particular your concept of a 'National Security Council'," Reuters reported. The following day, Thaci, Majko, and Qosja visited a refugee camp in Mullet near Tirana. FS ANTI-WAR PROTESTS CONTINUE IN SERBIA. Police on 23 May prevented a demonstration in Cacak, where a self- proclaimed Citizens' Parliament recently issued a declaration against Belgrade's policies in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 1999). At least 5,000 people-- primarily Yugoslav army conscripts and their families-- demonstrated in Krusevac on 23 May to demand that the army demobilize draftees and send them home from Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Reservists and civilians staged smaller protests in Aleksandrovac, Raska, and Baljevac over the weekend, Montenegrin Television noted. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Yugoslav Third Army, spoke to reservists' families in Raska on 22 May. Two days later, "The Independent" wrote that the Yugoslav army has not yet formulated a clear policy on desertions by reservists. PM DJUKANOVIC SAYS ARMY CARRYING OUT 'SILENT PUTSCH.' Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 23 May that "it is evident that in the past 15 days the Yugoslav army [stationed in Montenegro]...has placed itself in the service of the Belgrade dictatorship" of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 1999). Djukanovic did not elaborate. He stressed that there will be no peace in the Balkans as long as Milosevic remains in power. And he argued that, in the past, the West should have concentrated on promoting democracy in Serbia rather than on negotiating with Milosevic. In Cetinje on 21 May, some 5,000 people staged Montenegro's first rally against the Yugoslav army since the Kosova conflict began. The next day, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic demanded that the army withdraw from Cetinje, which is the traditional political stronghold of Montenegrins favoring independence from Serbia. PM CLINTON ARGUES 'MILOSEVIC HAS FAILED.' President Bill Clinton wrote in the "New York Times" of 23 May that "the problem [in the Balkans] is not simply ethnic hatred or even ethnic conflict.... The intolerable conditions that the region finds itself in today are the result of a decade-long campaign by Slobodan Milosevic to build a greater Serbia by singling out whole peoples for destruction because of their ethnicity and faith.... We cannot respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when ethnic conflict turns into ethnic cleansing where we can make a difference, we must try." Clinton stressed that "Milosevic has failed...[in his] strategy to outlast [NATO] by dividing the alliance.... Instead of disunity in Brussels, there are growing signs of disaffection in Belgrade: Serbian soldiers abandoning their posts, Serbian civilians protesting [Milosevic's] policies." Clinton added that he will continue pursuing NATO's present strategy but does "not rule out other military options." PM THACI URGES NATO TO CONTINUE BOMBING. Thaci said in Tirana on 23 May that NATO's attack on the UCK base at Kosare the previous day was the result of a "technical error." He stressed that the Atlantic alliance "must continue, even intensify, the air strikes." Another UCK spokesman told "The Guardian" of 24 May in Kukes that "Kosare was the result of friendly fire. We have to accept losses in war.... We cannot and must not lose faith in our friends." On 22 May, a NATO air strike on a military complex at Istok killed 19 at a prison there, including some UCK fighters. A NATO spokesman in Brussels said that the prison was part of a "legitimate military target" and suggested that Serbian forces had placed the Kosovars there as human shields. PM TUDJMAN FOR PARTITION OF KOSOVA? Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told the G-8 ambassadors to Croatia in Zagreb on 22 May that Serbian forces should withdraw to the northern part of Kosova, where foreign troops, including units from Russia, should also be stationed. Tudjman added that NATO troops should go to southern Kosova to help refugees return to their homes there. On 24 May, the independent daily "Novi List" charged that Tudjman's proposal amounts to "a Yalta agreement"--or partition--for Kosova. The remarks to the ambassadors constituted Tudjman's first public statement on the current conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Observers note that Tudjman has long favored a partition of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia. PM ROMANIAN WORKERS STAGE GENERAL STRIKE. Thousands of Romanian workers on 24 May stopped work in a 24-hour general strike called by the country's four largest trade unions. Taking part in the action were employees from numerous key sectors of the economy, including industry, health, transportation, mining, energy, navigation, agriculture, and the chemicals industry. The unions threatened to stage an unlimited general strike if the government does not meet their demands for improved social welfare and lower taxes by 31 July, AP reported. In other news, the Romanian government on 21 May issued a decree to "prevent corporate insolvencies," dpa cited Rompres as reporting on 21 May. The decree states that all companies in the country must submit within 30 days detailed financial statements about their debt situation to the Industry Ministry, which will "balance" those debts. VG ORTHODOX, CATHOLIC LEADERS RECEIVE STAR OF ROMANIA. Romanian President Emil Constantinescu on 21 May awarded the Star of Romania to Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist and Catholic Cardinal Alexandru Todea, AP reported on 21 May. The awards come on the heels of a visit to the country by Pope John Paul II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 1999). VG MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL REFERENDUM INVALID? Preliminary results of Moldova's non-binding referendum on increasing presidential powers suggest that the 23 May vote will be declared invalid owing to low turnout. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said early results indicated that turnout was about 56 percent. In order to be valid, the referendum required at least 60 percent of the electorate to participate. Golea said President Petru Lucinschi will press on with constitutional changes, despite the low turnout. On 23 May, Moldovans also voted in municipal and regional elections across the country. The same day, Oleg Manturov, a mayoral candidate from the Bloc of Communists, Agrarian Democrats, and Socialists, was critically wounded by a gun shot in the village of Kalarashovka, Infotag reported. VG EC WANTS BULGARIAN NUCLEAR REACTORS CLOSED EARLY. The European Commission on 21 May recommended that four Soviet-made reactors at the Kozloduy plant in Bulgaria be closed down earlier than planned to reduce the possibility of a serious accident, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. That day, Bulgarian officials met with commission representatives in Sofia to discuss alternative energy sources for the country. The Bulgarian government would like the reactors to run until the end of their operational life: 2006 for two of the reactors and 2010 for the other two. In other news, Bulgarian Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raikov on 23 May said Yugoslav authorities refused to allow entry to two truckloads of humanitarian assistance destined for the ethnic Bulgarian minority in eastern Serbia, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Raikov said the Yugoslav side refused the aid because Bulgaria insisted that its own officials distribute it. VG END NOTE CRISIS DEMONSTRATES ESTONIAN MILITARY'S WEAKNESS by Mel Huang Estonia's defense establishment has been shaken by reports that the leader of one of its elite units was allegedly involved in an armed robbery attempt that left three people seriously wounded. While declining to accept the resignation of Defense Forces commander Lieutenant-General Johannes Kert, President Lennart Meri spoke for many when he said that this incident has seriously harmed the reputation of both the Defense Forces and Estonia itself. Many in the Estonian capital appear worried that the incident points to underlying problems in the defense structure: weaknesses in internal military control, in external civilian oversight, and in the pool of military leaders. These revelations are potentially more damaging to Estonia's efforts to promote itself as a candidate for NATO membership than is low defense spending. On 15 May, local news outlets reported that an armed robbery attempt in Harju County had left three people hospitalized following a shoot-out. Most dismissed this as nothing more than a serious crime. But it rapidly transpired that one of the alleged perpetrators of the crime, Indrek Holm, is the acting head of the military police's Special Operations Group (SOG). On learning about the incident, Defense Minister Juri Luik ordered that the SOG's activities be halted and a special commission, under the chairmanship of Defense Ministry Permanent Under-Secretary Tarmo Mand, be set up to look into the matter. This commission is to answer three questions: Who is in charge of the SOG? Where did the chain of command break down? And what checks are in place to ensure that those recruited into the SOG are reliable? Once the investigation was launched, other problems were quickly discovered by both the government and the press. Enn Tarto, a member of the parliament's National Defense Committee, commented that the highest parliamentary bodies had little information about the SOG, its activities, or its members: "Even the State Defense Committee itself does not know who belongs there and [to whom] it is subordinated," he said in an indication of the lack of vigilance on the part of parliamentary oversight. As these revelations surfaced, Kert submitted his resignation to Meri, but the latter rejected it. The president said that he was pleased that Kert understood "the magnitude of the crime" and argued that the general should be given "another chance." This is the second time Meri has refused to accept Kert's resignation; the first was in 1997 following the death of 14 Estonian soldiers in a training exercise in Kurkse. An influential columnist for "Eesti Paevaleht," Hannes Rumm, suggested that the reason Meri did not accept Kert's resignation is that the military has a weak leadership pool: "It is the good fortune of Johannes Kert and the misfortune of the Estonian state that the schooling of well-educated lieutenants to become a general takes years." Riigikogu Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Trivimi Velliste concurred, pointing out that "we don't have 20 generals in waiting." However, Kert may no longer have the standing and support to push through further military reforms, nor to seriously explore the shortcomings the crisis exposed. In short, Estonia finds itself in a vicious circle in which a hike in defense spending may not be a panacea. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc. 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