|Tuesday, 13 April 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 06-01-30
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 STILL NO AGREEMENT WITH THE U.S. ON RUSSIA JOINING WTOEconomic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said in Davos, Switzerland, on 26 January that he and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman failed to agree on a bilateral membership agreement needed to pave the way for Russia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2005). Gref said that differences over rules for U.S. access to the Russian financial services markets for banks and insurance companies are holding up the deal, adding that "negotiations were intense, and we went over all the key issues once again." Russian officials maintain that the kind of access the United States wants for its companies would create unequal competitive conditions for domestic and other foreign firms. The next bilateral meeting will take place in February on the margins of a Group of Eight industrialized countries gathering in Moscow. PM
 AUTHORITIES REPORTEDLY TRYING TO SHUT DOWN KEY NGOIn the latest in a series of moves by the authorities aimed at tightening control over nongovernmental organizations, the Federal Registration Service has filed a complaint with the Basmany Raion court in Moscow Oblast calling for the closing of the Research Center on Human Rights, gazeta.ru reported on 27 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, and 26 January 2006). The authorities claim that the center has not provided them with the required information on its activities for the past five years. The NGO is an umbrella organization bringing together 12 human rights groups and was founded in 1992. PM
 NGO WANTS TO EXPOSE 'FALSE CHARGES'Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a frequent RFE/RL contributor who heads the nongovernmental organization Moscow Helsinki Group, said in Moscow on 27 January that the Russian special services and some media have violated the rights of some NGOs by linking them to alleged British spying activities, the daily "Kommersant" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 January 2006). "We think that the [recent televised reports] from the Federal Security Service and certain mass media [coverage of them] undermine cooperation between authorities and civil society in Russia. The attempts of policy makers to use a spy scandal to discredit NGOs, and especially human rights advocates, cause damage to society," she argued. Alekseyeva added that some NGOs want airtime to respond to the charges, which she previously described as "lies." PM
 HAZING INCIDENT SPARKS OUTCRY, CALL FOR DEFENSE MINISTER'S RESIGNATIONDeputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov learned only from reporters in Yerevan on 26 January of a brutal New Year's Eve hazing incident at the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy, which led to the amputation of the legs and genitals of Private Andrei Sychyov, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2006). "There is nothing serious there, otherwise I would certainly have known about it," he said. A few hours later, he began a damage-control exercise by saying that he is aware of the incident and that General Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian army's General Staff, will take charge of an investigation. The next day in Moscow, Ivanov demanded to know how news of the incident could have been kept from the authorities in the capital for 25 days. The commander of Russia's land forces, Colonel General Aleksei Maslov, arrived in Chelyabinsk to head the investigation on the spot. The Defense Ministry announced that the planned closure of the tank school, which has a poor professional record, will be sped up. Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees head Valentina Melnikova said that Ivanov should resign, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. PM
 PUBLIC CHAMBER PLANS MEDIA BILLPavel Gusev, who heads the Public Chamber's Media Commission, said in Moscow on 26 January that the new consultative body will soon put forward what he called a media bill aimed at "improving relations" among owners, managers, and journalists, "The Moscow Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). Gusev, who is editor of "Moskovsky komsomolets," did not elaborate, except to say that five versions of the bill are under consideration. He stressed that the bill will not seek to overturn any existing laws guaranteeing freedom of speech. PM
 HUGE DIFFERENCES IN RUSSIAN MINISTERS' INCOMESThe Moscow daily "Vedomosti" published on 26 January what it said is a listing of cabinet members' annual incomes according to the official declarations they have filed. Transportation Minister Igor Levitin led the field with nearly $5 million. Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev and Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov also have declared incomes of over $1 million. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov makes $62,000, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin lists $47,000. At the bottom of the scale are Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref with $41,000, Defense Minister Ivanov at $27,000, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu with $26,000, and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev at $21,000. Some Russian media noted that the list raises some questions, such as how Shoigu maintains a large property with tennis courts and a swimming pool on his salary. PM
 RUSSIA OFFICIALLY HAS UP TO 14 MILLION ILLEGAL WORKERSVyacheslav Postavnin, who heads the department overseeing labor migration at Russia's Federal Migration Service, said in Moscow on 26 January that there are up to 14 million illegal migrant workers in Russia, the daily "Kommersant" reported. By contrast, only 750,000 foreigners received employment permits in 2005. Konstantin Romodanovsky, who heads the service, called for measures to legalize at least some of the unregistered migrants, who do not pay taxes, starting with citizens of CIS member states. He added that Russia needs migrants and called on citizens to be more accepting of them. PM
 CHECHEN RESISTANCE DENIES BLOWING UP GAS PIPELINEAmir Saad, the commander of the Ossetian djamaat of the Chechen resistance forces, has denied in a statement sent to the resistance website Kavkaz-Center and posted on 26 January on chechenpress.org any role in the 22 January explosions that damaged the Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipeline. The statement said such actions do not at present figure among the group's objectives, and suggested that the Russian secret services were responsible for the blasts, which have drastically reduced natural-gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia. LF
 CHECHEN OFFICIALS REJECT PACE CRITICISMPro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov took issue on 25 January with a resolution adopted earlier that day by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) criticizing perceived human rights abuses in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution was based on a 67-page report that listed instances of murder, abductions, torture, hostage taking, and arbitrary detentions, RFE/RL reported. The report concluded that there is no evidence of any improvement in the human rights situation in Chechnya and that abuses are spreading to neighboring North Caucasus republics. Alkhanov admitted that human rights violations still take place in Chechnya, but claimed that the incidence of abuse is lower than five or even two years ago. Akhmar Zavgaev, who represents Chechnya in the Federation Council, similarly argued that the PACE report "does not reflect the most recent changes in Chechnya," and he branded it "superficial" and drafted with undue haste, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIA, RUSSIA PLEDGE TO CONTINUE DEFENSE COOPERATIONArmenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian delivered a positive assessment of military cooperation with Russia following talks in Yerevan on 26 January with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov, who also met during his visit with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Ivanov for his part said Russia will continue to hold joint maneuvers with Armenia and to train Armenian army officers. He said Russia has not yet begun the process of closing its two remaining military bases in Georgia, which it has pledged to do by late 2008, and he added that all the equipment and materiel currently deployed at those two bases will be transferred to the Russian base at Giumri in Armenia. Ivanov declined to comment on the negative reaction in Armenia to the decision by Russia's state-owned Gazprom to double the price of natural gas it supplies Armenia. Sarkisian for his part rejected the suggestion made by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian that in retaliation for that price hike, Armenia should consider charging Russia rent for the Giumri base. Sarkisian pointed out that the Russian base "is one of the components of Armenia's national security." LF
 U.S. COMPANY SIGNS AGREEMENT TO TAP ARMENIA'S URANIUM RESERVESThe Connecticut-based Global Gold Corporation (GGC) announced on 25 January it has acquired the rights to prospect for gold and uranium ore at a location in Armenia's northeastern Gegharkunik region, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 26 January. Soviet-era surveys of the district found evidence of several radioactive substances, including uraninite (uranium oxide). GGC will conduct further exploration before mining begins; the uranium ore will probably be processed in Armenia. LF
 PACE CONDEMNS FALSIFICATION OF AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION...The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) endorsed on 25 January during the assembly's winter session in Strasbourg the mandate of the Azerbaijani delegation to PACE, zerkalo.az reported on 27 January. The Azerbaijani opposition had anticipated that PACE might strip Azerbaijan of its mandate in light of the falsification of the 6 November parliamentary elections. The Monitoring Committee adopted a resolution condemning the falsification of the 6 November vote and the violent dispersal by police of demonstrators who gathered on 26 November to protest that falsification. The resolution further listed measures it called on the Azerbaijani leadership to take in order to ensure that future ballots are free, fair, and democratic. LF
 ...URGES OPPOSITION TO PARTICIPATE IN REPEAT VOTEThe 25 January PACE resolution further urged the Azerbaijani opposition to reconsider its stated intention to boycott the 13 May repeat voting in 10 constituencies where the outcome of the 6 November parliamentary elections was annulled, day.az reported on 26 January. The resolution reportedly argued that such a boycott is not the most constructive approach to building democracy. The Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing has already announced that it will not field candidates in the 13 May ballot, but its partners in the Azadlyq election bloc -- the Musavat party and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan -- have yet to decide whether or not to do so (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 January 2006). Hasan Kerimov of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing dismissed the PACE draft resolution as inappropriate, while Musavat party First Deputy Chairman Vurgun Eyyub said that its argument is valid only for "democratic countries." Meanwhile, 55 would-be parliament deputies, including two Musavat party members, have applied to local election commissions to begin the procedure of registering for the 13 May ballot, day.az reported on 26 January. LF
 FORMER POLICE OFFICER ACCUSES AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTER OF TIES TO CRIMINAL KINGPINFormer Colonel Arif Aliyev, who was dismissed from the Azerbaijan Interior Ministry in 2001, told a press conference in Baku on 26 January that Interior Minister Ramil Usubov could not have remained ignorant of the crimes committed over a period of several years by a gang headed by Interior Ministry official Haci Mammadov, day.az reported. That group is accused of several high-profile killings and abductions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 14, and 24 March 2005). Aliyev also claimed Usubov owns several Baku restaurants and that he condoned the sale of jobs within the ministry. Asked whether he was afraid of possible retribution for publicly implicating Usubov, Aliyev said he has received security guarantees from National Security Minister Eldar Mahmudov. It was the National Security Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office that first released details of the activities of Mammadov's gang last year. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BLAMES ENERGY CRISIS ON 'DARK FORCES'Mikheil Saakashvili left the Davos Economic Forum prematurely on 26 January and returned to Tbilisi after high winds and snow incapacitated a high-voltage power line in eastern Georgia, compounding the chaos and misery caused by the continued shortfall in gas supplies, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported on 26 and 27 January, respectively. Western agencies have quoted Georgians as complaining that the cost of kerosene and firewood -- the only alternative heating materials available -- has skyrocketed since explosions on 22 January damaged the main Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipeline. Addressing a 26 January session of the cabinet and the National Security Council, Saakashvili praised Georgia's energy specialists for their ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis and paid tribute to the population's "patience and understanding" in the face of a crisis precipitated by "dark, barbaric forces," Caucasus Press reported. He vowed that Georgia will "kneel to nobody" and continue its efforts to become "a free and successful European state," adding that he is "confident we shall start importing gas from Iran in several days." LF
 GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY TAKES ISSUE WITH ABKHAZ LEADER'S PEACE PROPOSALThe Georgian Foreign Ministry reacted on 25 January to the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement of 23 January expressing approval of what Moscow termed the "realistic" and "constructive" peace proposal outlined by Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, in his 20 January letter to the UN Security Council, regnum.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 January 2006). In that letter, Bagapsh proposed ending the international blockade of Abkhazia; implementing the confidence-building measures agreed upon during talks in Sochi three years ago, including the resumption of rail traffic via Abkhazia, the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons, and renovating the Inguri hydroelectric power station; and beginning "civilized negotiations" on all issues relevant to the conflict, with the exception of Abkhazia's status. The Georgian Foreign Ministry affirmed that it is "impossible to envisage a conversation about a full-fledged and final solution to the conflict that fails to address questions connected with the region's status." It added that such an approach contradicts the Abkhaz leadership's stated readiness to begin talks without preconditions. The Georgian response further dismissed as "purely declarative" Bagapsh's pledge to respect the rights of Georgian displaced persons who have returned to Abkhazia. LF
 KAZAKH ACCOUNTING COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES 2005 RESULTSKazakhstan's Accounting Committee issued a press release on its website (http://www.esep.kz) on 26 January detailing 2005 checks that revealed 54 billion tenges ($408 million) in violations and returned 4.5 billion tenges ($34 million) to the state budget. The press release noted that the committee's audits in 2005 resulted in disciplinary action against 65 officials, the dismissal of 15 officials, and administrative sanctions against 14 officials. The committee has given law-enforcement officials materials on 15 violations for further investigation. DK
 KYRGYZ DEPUTIES CALL FOR DISMISSAL OF NATIONAL SECURITY SERVICE...A majority of deputies in Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 26 January for resolutions urging President Kurmanbek Bakiev to dismiss National Security Service (SNB) head Tashtemir Aitbaev and National Security Council deputy head Vyacheslav Khan, ferghana.ru reported. Resolutions calling for the dismissal of Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov and Deputy Interior Minister Omurbek Subanaliev failed to gather sufficient votes to pass. The vote follows harsh criticism of Aitbaev by Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, who warned on 25 January that criminal elements have penetrated the SNB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2006). Aitbaev hit back on 26 January, telling journalists that he will not resign, akipress.org reported. Aitbaev said that Kulov is afraid of him because "I have information on him." Aitbaev stated that he hopes to reinstate criminal cases against Kulov for illegal aircraft sales and arms dealing, both charges of which Kulov had previously been exonerated. DK
 ...AS REPUTED CRIME BOSS BLASTS PRIME MINISTER FOR ALLEGATIONSIn a 26 January press conference in Bishkek, Ryspek Akmatbaev, whose recent acquittal on murder charges Kulov criticized in his 25 January remarks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2006), echoed Aitbaev's comments on Kulov, calling Kulov a "criminal" and accusing him of skimming money from "international grants and investments," akipress.org reported. Akmatbaev said that Kulov's statements indicate that Kulov is beginning a campaign for the presidency. Akmatbaev also put a personal spin on his differences with Kulov, ferghana.ru reported. Asked by a journalist whether the conflict between the two could pose a danger to "ordinary people," Akmatbaev joked, "If he's a man, no one will get hurt: we'll go one on one, I'll kick his ass, and that'll be it." DK
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT SHAKES UP GOVERNMENTPresident Saparmurat Niyazov effected another in an ongoing series of government shakeups on 25 January, turkmenistan.ru and official news agency TDH reported the next day. Niyazov sacked Agriculture Minister Begench Atamyradov for "serious deficiencies," replacing him with Esenmyrat Orazgeldiev, who had been deputy minister. Niyazov also appointed Shemshat Annagylyjova to the vacant post of education minister. Aganiyaz Akiev, formerly the deputy prime minister and head of the president's property department, was released from those posts and named governor of Tashauz Province, replacing Kakamyrad Annaklychev, who faces corruption charges. Akiev's replacement as property manager will be Iklymberdy Paromov, previously first deputy foreign minister. Finally, Toily Komekov was appointed chairman of the State Fishing Committee, while former head Aleksandr Grishin was demoted to deputy chairman. DK
 PACE URGES SUPPORT FOR INDEPENDENT BROADCASTING TO BELARUSThe Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in its resolution on 26 January that Belarus is far from meeting the conditions to become a member of the Council of Europe and added that it is not planning to restore the "special-guest status" for the Belarusian legislature, Belapan reported. The resolution notes that in the run-up to the 10 March presidential election President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has undertaken a series of measures to prevent any expression of political dissent, obstruct the activities of democratic forces, and muzzle the remaining independent media in Belarus. PACE called on Council of Europe member states to give immediate financial and if necessary logistical support to independent broadcasting to Belarus from abroad, which should preferably employ independent Belarusian journalists and broadcast in the Belarusian language about Belarus. PACE also suggested that the European Union should extend its visa ban to include a larger number of high-ranking officials in the Lukashenka regime, consider easing visa requirements for ordinary Belarusian citizens, and "take appropriate steps to identify and freeze bank accounts and other assets belonging to President Lukashenka and others from his entourage." JM
 GERMAN-LED GROUP TO IMPLEMENT EU BROADCASTING PROJECT FOR BELARUSEU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner announced on 26 January that the European Commission has decided to award 2 million euros ($2.45 million) to a German-led consortium to begin independent media broadcasts into Belarus ahead of the 19 March presidential election, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported. According to the European Commission's press release, the selected consortium includes partners in Poland (European Radio for Belarus), Lithuania (Radio Baltic Wave), Belarus (journalists, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations), and Russia (RTVi). The two-year project will cover radio and television broadcasts, the Internet, support of the Belarusian press, and the training of journalists. JM
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SET TO REPEL 'INFORMATION ATTACKS'Lukashenka on 26 January claimed that Belarus's national broadcasting system "is ready to ward off information attacks with offensive counterpropaganda actions," RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "We will not lose the information war. Belarusian radio and television channels have not lost their sharpness," Lukashenka said while presenting awards to state television journalists. The Belarusian president also reiterated his stance that Belarus's broadcasting system is an "integral part of state policies and ideology." JM
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDER REFUSES TO SUBMIT BALLOT SIGNATURESExiled Belarusian politician Zyanon Paznyak announced in an online conference hosted by RFE/RL's Belarus Service website (http://www.svaboda.org) on 26 January that he is not going to submit the signatures his nomination group collected to place him on the ballot for the 19 March presidential vote to the Central Election Commission. According to Paznyak, by warning him on 18 January against early electioneering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2006), the commission led him to understand that he will not be registered as a presidential candidate. "In such a situation, we are not going to do futile work -- preparing and checking the lists of signatures, submitting them to the commission, etc. -- in order to become pawns in their game and get spit in our face," Paznyak said. He claimed his nomination group had collected 130,000-135,000 signatures in his support, thus exceeding the minimum 100,000 necessary for registration. The collection of signatures for presidential contenders ends on 27 January; the Central Election Commission should made registration decisions no later than 21 February. JM
 GAZPROM CONTINUES TO ACCUSE UKRAINE OF STEALING GASGazprom said in a statement on 26 January that Ukraine siphoned off 326 million cubic meters of Russian transit gas from 19-25 January, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "The cold snap has shown that Ukraine is the only transit state that flagrantly violates international gas business conventions," the statement reads. "It means a total absence of control in Ukraine's energy sector." JM
 DELAYS IN UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN GAS DEAL ATTRIBUTED TO JOINT VENTUREUkraine's Anti-Monopoly Committee said on 26 January that it has so far received no information from either Naftohaz Ukrayiny or RosUkrEnergo that it needs to give a go-ahead to the creation of a joint venture by these two companies for selling gas in Ukraine, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. In accordance with a framework gas deal signed by these two companies and Gazprom earlier this month, Naftohaz Ukrayiny and the Swiss-based RosUkrEnergo are to create a joint venture responsible for selling gas in Ukraine. The signing of a specific contract on gas deliveries to Ukraine in 2006 has already been postponed twice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2006). JM
 RUGOVA BURIED AS WESTERN LEADERS CALL FOR UNITYHundreds of thousands of mourners arrived in Prishtina on 26 January as President Ibrahim Rugova was laid to rest, international news agencies reported the same day. "This was the funeral of the founding father of the nation," Reuters quoted Rugova aide Muhamet Hamiti as saying. "I am sure that he died with the idea that we were almost there." Croatian President Stjepan Mesic likened Rugova to a "European Ghandi." Western officials in their funeral orations urged Kosova's leaders not to let the loss of Rugova, who was a unifying figure, divert their attention from settling the province's status in upcoming talks with Serbia. "His death is a great loss," EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said in a speech. "It is one of the cruel ironies of history that he left at the moment he was most needed, the very moment he expected to provide leadership in helping to settle the future status of Kosovo." Solana added, however, that "there is a great deal of work to do and there is no time to lose." BW
 BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT LOSES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTEThe government of Bosnia's Republika Srpska lost a vote of no confidence over its economic policies in the regional parliament on 26 January, international news agencies reported the same day. Forty-four deputies in the 83-seat parliament supported the vote of no confidence against the government of Prime Minister Pero Bukejlovic. Twenty-nine lawmakers voted against the measure and six abstained. The Republika Srpska government is led by the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and the no-confidence measure was called by the opposition Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and was supported by the centrist Party of Democratic Progress (PDP). Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic, who is also the leader of the SDS, now has 10 days to name a prime minister-designate who will then have 40 days to name a government and win parliamentary approval. BW
 CROATIAN DIPLOMATS ASSAULTED IN BELGRADETwo Croatian diplomats were attacked on the night of 25 January in Belgrade, B92 and Hina reported the next day. Four men assaulted Branislav Loncar and Boris Herceg as they were sitting in a car with diplomatic license plates in Belgrade's Senjak district. One of the assailants smashed a window and struck Herceg, who was in the driver's seat. The attackers fled before police arrived. Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic condemned the incident in a letter to his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Beta and Hina reported on 26 January. Draskovic added that police were actively seeking the perpetrators. BW
 SERBIA TO OPEN ARCHIVES FOR ICTY SCRUTINYSerbia and Montenegro's National Hague Tribunal Cooperation Council has approved the decision to open Belgrade's national investigative archives to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), B92 reported on 26 January. Rasim Ljajic, the council's president who also serves as Serbia and Montenegro's human rights minister, said all documents relating to war-crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic sought by the ICTY will be turned over. Ljajic said Belgrade does not know whether or not Mladic is on Serbian territory and added that he hopes that by turning over the requested documents, Belgrade will be able to put to rest all allegations that it is helping him evade capture. BW
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO OFFER PLAN TO REPLACE RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS WITH INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERSMoldovan President Vladimir Voronin told U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Cramer on 26 January that Chisinau plans to introduce a plan to replace Russian troops in the breakaway Transdniester region with international civilian and military observers, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Voronin made the comments as settlement talks on Transdniester resumed in Tiraspol the same day. Voronin's press service said the president also plans on insisting that Moldovan authorities monitor military complexes in Transdniester and for the unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops. BW
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 INSURGENTS KILL TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS, DESTROY TANKERSuspected neo-Taliban fighters killed two Afghan soldiers and blew up a fuel tanker headed for a U.S. base on 26 January in southeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported. The attackers struck an Afghan army post in Paktika Province, Afghan military officials said. "Two soldiers were martyred and two were wounded," said General Akram Sami, commander of the army's southeastern corps. "We have no information of casualties on the enemy side." In Kandahar, a fuel tanker driving to the main U.S. base in the area exploded when a bomb attached to it detonated. Another bomb was found on a second tanker, but it was removed without incident. Local authorities said the owners of both tankers were arrested. MR
 BRITISH TO INCREASE NUMBER OF TROOPS IN AFGHANISTANBritish military officials on 26 January announced plans to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan to bring the overall deployment figure to about 5,700, AFP reported. The increased troops are part of an expansion of NATO activities in Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary John Reid said. Some 3,300 of the additional troops will be part of a special unit tasked with security and reconstruction operations in southern Helmand Province, where neo-Taliban insurgents operate. Reid said 1,000 British troops will be in Kabul as part of an allied rapid-reaction force, which British troops will command from May until February 2007. Currently, there are about 1,100 British troops in Afghanistan. MR
 CHOPPER SEARCH IN AFGHANISTAN ENDSRescuers called off their search for a missing International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helicopter on 26 January as they could find no signs of it after six days, AP reported. Seven people were aboard the helicopter when it disappeared on 21 January while flying from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Kabul. Chartered by the ICRC, the helicopter was part of the international relief efforts for earthquake victims in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities said they found no wreckage on their territory, suggesting the aircraft and its crew of Turkmenistan Airline employees must have crashed in Afghanistan. But Afghan authorities reported no signs of it in the mountains on the countries' border. The deputy head of the Red Cross in Pakistan, James Reynolds, said ICRC pilots are still "keeping an eye open" for the downed helicopter during their routine flights through the area. MR
 NATO DELAYS AFGHAN EXPANSIONNATO said 26 January that its forces will put off expanded operations in restive southern Afghanistan until September, three months later than originally planned, dpa reported. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said expanding NATO operations in Afghanistan was "a very complicated thing to do in terms of force generation and actually setting up the operation." Appathurai said NATO forces will begin stepping up their presence in southern Afghanistan sometime between June and September. Appathurai also said NATO troops will take part in counternarcotics operations in the country, where troops of the U.S.-led international coalition have largely left the flourishing drug trade alone. NATO plans to raise the number of alliance troops in Afghanistan from 9,000 to 15,000. MR
 BOMBINGS VICTIMS IN IRAN BURIEDA funeral was held on 26 January for victims of the 24 January bombings in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, and, according to state television interviews with mourners, foreigners are responsible for the bombings. "American and Israel have committed this crime," said an unidentified man. One woman said: "Our enemies carried out these terrorist acts -- namely America and Israel. Damn them." A crowd subsequently chanted "Death to Britain." Ahvaz Friday-prayer leader Seyyed Mohammad Ali Jazayeri said there is little doubt that the United Kingdom and United States were behind the bombings, Fars News Agency reported. He added, "And these are all done in the interests of the Zionists." Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei told reporters in Qom on 26 January that he is fairly certain Britain is one of the countries behind the bombings, IRNA reported. He said the unnamed enemy is trying to destabilize cities on the periphery by encouraging ethnic and tribal discord. There is a large ethnic Arab minority living in Ahvaz. Mohseni-Ejei added that several arrests have been made. BS
 U.S. GENERAL COMMENTS ON IRANIAN INTERFERENCE IN IRAQU.S. Central Command Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said in the 25 January "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" newspaper that the United States worries about "Iranian interference in Iraq." However, he went on to say, the United States also recognizes that Iran is Iraq's "strategic neighbor" and it always will affect events there. Kimmitt said it is not clear who in Iran is responsible for events in Iraq. "We worry that Iran might be a source of bombs and other unhelpful elements in Iraq, but we do not know if these elements are backed by the Iranian government or other Iranian groups; nonetheless, the government must control these elements," he said. BS
 ITALIAN COURT UNFREEZES IRANIAN FUNDSIranian funds in the Banco Nazionale del Lavoro that were frozen by an Italian court have been released to the Iranian Embassy, "Corriere della Serra" reported on 26 January. The funds were initially frozen on the orders of an Italian court in connection with a U.S. ruling that relates to an alleged Iranian role in the killing of three Americans -- Alisa Flatow, Matthew Eisenfeld, and Sara Duker -- in Gaza by Hamas. The Rome Civil Court decided that the U.S. writ was served improperly, and if the United States seeks to freeze the Iranian assets again the procedure must start from scratch. The Italian daily added that Iranian Embassy accounts cannot be touched. BS
 GERMAN HOSTAGES IN IRAQ APPEAR ON VIDEOTAPETwo German nationals taken hostage in Iraq appeared in a videotape released on 27 January and appealed to their government to secure their release, international news agencies reported. The videotape, broadcast by Al-Jazeera, showed the two German engineers, Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke, squatting on the ground with gunmen flanking them. Their voices were inaudible, but Reuters quoted Al-Jazeera as saying the video showed the two urging Berlin to secure their release. The video had a time stamp of 24 January, the day the two were abducted in the northern city of Bayji (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2006). A group calling itself the Brigades of the Supporters of Monotheism and the way of the Prophet Muhammad has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but made no specific demands, dpa reported. "The German government will do everything it can to free the two men," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, Reuters reported. "We will act level-headedly. That I can promise on behalf of the government. We renew our appeal for the men to be released immediately." BW
 AUDIT SAYS 60 PERCENT OF WATER AND SANITATION PROJECTS IN IRAQ NOT COMPLETEDAccording to a U.S. audit, approximately 60 percent of the water and sanitation projects planned for Iraq since 2003 have not been completed, Reuters reported on 27 January. Of 136 planned water and sanitation projects, just 49 have been completed, according to a report by Stuart Brown, the special inspector for Iraqi reconstruction. Moreover, only 300 out of 425 planned electricity projects have been completed, according to the report. The report blames higher spending for security, shifts in strategy due to changing conditions in Iraq, and administrative costs that were not considered in the initial planning. BW
 SMALL KURDISH PARTY ANNOUNCES PLANS TO WORK WITH LARGER KURDISH BLOCSThe Kurdish Islamic Union, a small party that won seats in Iraq's parliamentary elections, said on 26 January that it will cooperate with larger Kurdish parties, AP reported the same day. Hadi Ali of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, which won five seats in the 275-seat National Assembly, said the party wants to cooperate with the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan to promote Kurdish interests. Ali said his party would like seats in the cabinet, but added that he doubted that it would be offered any. "We're primarily a Kurdish party. For us, the most important thing is the people who live in Kurdistan," Ali, who is justice minister in the Kurdish administration in Irbil, said. "Our allegiance to Iraq is next to zero. All those years of hatred and oppression under the previous regimes have made it very difficult for us to have nationalistic feelings for Iraq." With the five seats, Kurdish parties will control 58 votes in the National Assembly. The Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance is the largest bloc with 128 seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2006). BW
 SOUTHERN IRAQI GOVERNOR THREATENS TO HALT COOPERATION WITH BRITISHAl-Basrah Governor Muhammad al-Wa'ili threatened on 27 January to cease all dealings with the British unless they release Iraqi prisoners detained this week, AP reported. Al-Wa'ili also called for a mass demonstration on 29 January outside the British Consulate in Al-Basrah, to demand the release of the men, who were detained on 24 January in a joint Iraqi-British operation. "Al-Basrah's provincial council and all government offices will suspend all kinds of dealings with the [British] forces at all levels if they don't release the detainees," al-Wa'ili said. He also said Iraqis should be in charge of security in the city and British forces should be stationed on the outskirts. British officials said 14 people were detained in the 24 January raids (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2006). Nine were released but five others -- all policemen -- were detained for crimes including murder. British military officials said the Iraqi Interior Ministry ordered the arrests and that local authorities were given notice. BW
 RUGOVA AND HIS LEGACYBy Patrick Moore
Like most towering political figures, the late President Ibrahim Rugova attracted his share of controversy. Kosovar Albanians generally hail him as their undisputed moral leader, but some feel that time had long passed him by, and that his program of passive resistance ultimately played into Serbian hands by leaving the Albanians defenseless. Many Serbs consider him to be a decent man personally -- at least compared to some of the leaders of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) -- but argue that his uncompromising support of independence made armed conflict inevitable.
What, indeed, is Rugova's legacy? Basri Qaprici, who is president of Kosova's PEN Club and a longtime associate of Rugova, and Momcilo Trajkovic, who heads the Serbian Resistance Movement of Kosovo and is a veteran Serbian political leader, recently gave their views to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.
Both men agree that Rugova was someone special, albeit for different reasons. Qaprici noted that he was "a symbol of peace in the Balkans...[who sought] a peaceful resolution of the Kosova question and the dissolution of Yugoslavia in a peaceful way." Trajkovic argues that the Kosovar leaders who came before Rugova were communists who were not honest about their ultimate political goals, whereas Rugova was the first ethnic Albanian politician to declare openly that he wanted independence.
On the down side, Rugova said that he favored peaceful means but was unwilling to take into account the opinion of those minorities that did not want independence. Rugova should have realized that one must talk to people who have different views and not only to those who share one's ideas, Trajkovic maintains.
And what about Rugova's tactics? Qaprici notes that Rugova realized in the late 1980s that independence was a viable option only if Yugoslavia began to dissolve into separate, internationally recognized states. Until that happened, he had to put forward the idea of making Kosova the seventh republic in the Yugoslav federation, which was, in any event, totally unacceptable to the Serbian leadership. Rugova later resisted overtures from Ljubljana and Zagreb to open a "joint front" against Belgrade when they began their moves toward independence. Finally, when Serbian repression increased in Kosova in the second half of the 1990s, Rugova resisted calls from the UCK to join their cause, Qaprici maintains.
Trajkovic sees things differently. He argues that Rugova's policies ultimately led to a conflict because he insisted on independence, sought out foreign support to "internationalize" what should have been an internal issue, and failed to seek out common ground with local Serbs. The only Kosovar Albanians willing to talk to their Serbian neighbors were people without real political power, such as veteran rights activist and former political prisoner Adem Demaci.
Qaprici says that this assessment is not quite fair, noting that nobody in the Serbian political establishment was willing to talk to Rugova during the 1990s, and that Trajkovic himself was a political outsider during the rule of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
The two speakers differed sharply about the controversial visit of Rugova to Milosevic in the spring of 1999, when Serbian repression in Kosova was in full swing. Qaprici maintains that Rugova was kidnapped in an effort to compromise him, adding that he knew full well that the "only language Milosevic understood was that of force." Trajkovic, however, argues that Rugova was "brave" in going to the Serbian capital to "try to find a [political] solution." In the end, Rugova "outsmarted" Milosevic, Trajkovic maintains.
Rugova's own people subsequently elected him twice to the presidency in recognition of his democratic credentials. Trajkovic adds that Hashim Thaci and other former guerrillas sought after the war to present themselves as democratic politicians to win credibility, but the voters understood that Rugova was the genuine article.
Looking toward the upcoming status talks, Qaprici argues that Kosova's elected institutions now carry more weight than do individual leaders. Trajkovic agrees that the institutions occupy center stage politically, so Rugova's death will not substantially affect the talks. The key players in the negotiations are, however, in the international community, and Rugova's successor will be somebody who will listen to them. Trajkovic concludes that what Kosova truly needs is a leader who understands something about economics and "not just politics alone."