UKRAINE, POLAND AGREE TO CRACK DOWN ON ORGANIZED CRIME. Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and his Polish counterpart, Janusz Tomaszewski, meeting on 3 March in Kyiv, signed an agreement on cooperating to combat organized crime. Kravchenko said that such cooperation will result in the disbanding by this summer of some 60 criminal gangs operating in both countries. "Joint operations [so far] have resulted in bringing the situation at the Polish-Ukrainian border under control. There is no longer such a thing as a Ukrainian mafia in Poland," Kravchenko said. Polish Television commented that this statement "astonished" the Polish delegation, adding that Ukrainians compose Poland's largest criminal group from the former Soviet republics. JM

UKRAINIAN COAL MINING MANAGERS FIRED FOR CORRUPTION. Deputy Coal Industry Minister Volodymyr Novikov said on 3 March that "at least" 41 coal industry executives have been fired on corruption charges, AP reported. He cited such offenses as embezzlement of state property and mishandling of budget funds. He added that some senior executives have used miners to build private houses and have sent their children to colleges or health resorts at the expense of coal enterprises. Deputy ProsecutorGeneral Olha Kolinko said the reported corruption cases constitute "less than one-tenth of the iceberg of abuses" in the coal industry. Mykhaylo Volynets, head of the Independent Miners' Union, commented that the current anti-corruption campaign was prompted by the approaching presidential elections. President Leonid Kuchma's administration, according to Volynets, is creating an "outward appearance of fighting against corruption and organized crime." JM

Kazakhstan's flawed presidential election in January has led international organizations to argue that greater efforts are needed to develop democratic practices in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Representatives of eight democracy-building organizations met in a closed session in Warsaw last week to consider the assistance they can offer to countries holding nationwide elections this year. The polls include parliamentary elections in Armenia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan and a presidential election in Ukraine.

The January presidential election in Kazakhstan was frequently cited as a warning. Before it was held, Kazakhstan was considered one of the leaders in democratic reforms in Central Asia. A report issued after the poll said the election process had fallen far short of the standards to which Kazakhstan was committed. Those attending the Warsaw meeting were told by one international organization that the presidential election was a "warning that even best preparations can be tossed aside by political decisions."

In Kazakhstan, these "political decisions" included an unexpected change in the date of the election, which left candidates challenging incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev with insufficient time to develop their campaigns; legal measures that in effect disqualified some candidates; restrictions on the right of assembly; and a media that devoted a disproportionately large share of its coverage to Nazarbayev.

The situation in Kazakhstan was not all bad, however. International organizations found that the Central Election Commission undertook a wide-ranging and impartial program to educate voters about their rights, about the backgrounds of the candidates, and about how to properly complete a ballot slip. They agreed that plans for election day were welldrafted and well-executed. But these positive points were overshadowed by problem areas.

The conditions in which the election took place dismayed international organizations, which had worked for months to arrange free and fair polls. It led some speakers at the meeting in Warsaw to argue that international organizations should not send observers to elections in countries where the development of democracy is stunted. They said cooperation could be misused by authorities to suggest they enjoyed international support. But others argued that it is important that international organizations remain active in these countries to build on the foundations already there.

Although much of the discussion focused on Kazakhstan, some participants were also critical of Uzbekistan, where parliamentary elections are scheduled later this year. Because the meeting was private, none of the speakers would talk about the discussions. But organizers said there was no decision to stop sending electoral assistance to any country. The Warsaw meeting was organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)--the OSCE's election arm. ODIHR and the OSCE missions and offices in Central Asia and the Caucasus have developed programs to educate voters and political parties on how a democratic political system and democratic elections should operate.

In its final report on the Kazakh elections, the ODIHR election-monitoring team mentioned six failings that international organizations want to avoid in other elections this year:

DURATION OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN: In October last year, Kazakh authorities announced that presidential elections would be held on 10 January 1999. This was almost two years earlier than planned. The ODIHR said opposition parties and possible presidential candidates were taken by surprise because there had been no public discussions on holding the election earlier than scheduled. In the ODIHR's view, the period before the election was too short to allow for sufficient preparation by all prospective candidates. The ODIHR said an election law adopted by the parliament after a public debate would enhance the credibility of any election process.

ELECTION COMMISSIONS: The ODIHR noted that election commissions at all levels in the Kazakh presidential election were controlled by the president and local officials appointed with his approval. The report said neither the method of the appointments nor the makeup of the commissions encouraged public trust in the electoral process. The report said, "The elections commissions...are not perceived as independent, representative, or neutral."

INFRINGEMENTS ON THE RIGHT TO SEEK PUBLIC OFFICE: Initially, eight candidates sought registration as presidential candidates. Two voluntarily withdrew. Another two were not allowed to participate under circumstances that the ODIHR and other international organizers criticized.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND ASSEMBLY: The Constitution of Kazakhstan guarantees freedom of association. The ODIHR said the authorities restricted this freedom in some cases during the election campaign. It also noted that some human-rights organizations and other NGOs had faced problems with registration. The ODIHR said it appeared that the authorities had the right to delay registration without being obliged to provide an explanation. Some NGO members reported harassment by the police. The ODIHR report said, "These measures tend to discourage the right of individuals and groups to establish political parties and organizations."

CAMPAIGN ENVIRONMENT: The ODIHR report said state authorities in Kazakhstan did not behave impartially and provided election support for some candidates, in particular President Nazarbayev. It noted that, in some cases, candidates had difficulty gaining access to work places, universities, and other places to hold meetings.

MEDIA ACCESS: The ODIHR says both the state-owned and private media devoted a disproportionately large share of their coverage to Nazarbayev. In the ODIHR's view, most of the coverage of Nazarbayev was either positive or neutral. The other candidates received little coverage, and what they did get was generally neutral or negative.