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PROSECUTORS IDENTIFY MISSING JOURNALIST'S BODY. Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets on 26 February ruled that the headless corpse found at Tarashcha near Kyiv in November is that of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. The press service of the Prosecutor- General's Office said the ruling was made on the basis of "additional data" from medical experts. Meanwhile, Lesya Gongadze, mother of the missing journalist, has asked President Leonid Kuchma for a meeting, saying it may become a "positive step to finding the truth that will help us put an end to this complex and important case." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
PRESIDENT SAYS GONGADZE'S DEATH USED AS 'POLITICAL WEAPON...' In a letter published by the 27 February "Financial Times," President Kuchma wrote that some Ukrainian politicians have turned the tragic death of Heorhiy Gongadze into a "political weapon designed to destabilize Ukraine." Kuchma noted: "It is not by chance that my main accusers are precisely the same people who have blocked Ukraine's transformation to a free market economy." The Ukrainian president said there are no grounds to accuse him of Gongadze's murder, adding that he is committed to protecting the freedom and safety of the press. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
...AS HIS FORMER BODYGUARD CONTINUES TRANSCRIBING SECRET TAPES. Mykola Melnychenko, who secretly bugged President Kuchma's office and provoked a political scandal in Ukraine by publicizing some recordings, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 26 February that he needs "a great deal of time" as well as "equipment and professionals" to transcribe all the secret tapes he made. Melnychenko noted, however, that the material he has already transcribed is sufficient to prove unambiguously that Kuchma is "a criminal who gave criminal orders and controlled [their fulfillment]." He added that he is now waiting for the confirmation of the authenticity of his recordings by the International Press Institute in Vienna. Following this confirmation, he is going to publicize more taped information "which is no less criminal than the Gongadze case." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February)
'THE MUTILATED TRUTH.' Reporters without Borders (RSF) has released a report, "The Mutilated Truth: Investigation into the Murder of Journalist Georgiy Gongadze", (available at http://www.rsf.fr). RSF denounced "extremely serious errors committed by the Ukrainian judicial authorities throughout the investigation on the kidnapping and murder of the journalist." According to the RSF, the "investigation seems to have been primarily focused on protecting the executive branch of government from accusations leveled against it, rather than trying to get to the truth." Gongadze's wife was only allowed to see the body for identification purposes one month after it had been discovered; the body was kept in a provincial morgue with no refrigeration for thirteen days after its discovery. The judicial authorities also delayed DNA testing, refused to investigate official threats against the journalist prior to his disappearance, and refused to grant the journalist's wife and mother the status of parties claiming damages, which would have enabled them to intervene in the proceedings. (Reporters without Borders Press Release, 26 February)
Last week on the radio, a woman's clear and gentle voice went out to the world. More in sorrow than in anger, her voice spoke of her husband's disappearance. Actually, her husband has "been disappeared" after he wrote about rampant corruption among high-level officials. (Tragically, he has "been disappeared;" a phrase first coined to describe what happened to thousands of critics of the Argentine government whom the police "made away with.")
The woman's voice told how, fearing for their safety, she and her husband vaguely thought about leaving their country last summer. But they were, as she put it, "not careful." After all, they liked living and working in their native country. She is a lawyer and her husband a journalist. And they have three-year-old twin boys.
One day, she said, she forgot her key and rushed home. Rather than finding her husband there, she found their apartment dark and deserted. Then she knew that something had gone very wrong. That was the last time she saw her husband. She lives from day to day. She does not know what to tell her three-year-old twins. She only wants to know the truth about her husband's fate.
That sad and gentle voice belongs to Miroslava Gongadze, wife of the Ukrainian journalist who "was disappeared" last fall. (While the phrase "was disappeared" was first applied to Argentina in recent years, in Ukraine millions have disappeared at the arbitrary hand of the Stalinist state.) As of yesterday, she finally learned that her husband has been cruelly murdered, after his headless corpse at last was named by reluctant state officials.
But another voice has been heard in Ukraine, or at least by one third of its people. (Most of the population mainly have access to censored or politically skewed media.) That voice, secretly tape-recorded by his security guard, is that of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Cursing foully, Kuchma asks (orders?) that someone rid him of that meddlesome reporter, Georgy Gongadze.
Did Kuchma give the nod for the journalist to be "done away with?" The answer to that question may never be totally clear. But some now say that the reporter's headless corpse may bring down the head of the Ukrainian government who tried to cover it all up.
...WELCOMES MOLDOVA'S PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. "The elections in Moldova turned out perfectly well. The winners were the same political forces as those that won in Belarus several years earlier. They are centrists," Lukashenka commented on the recent sweeping victory of Moldova's Communists. He said he will accept "with [all his] heart and soul" the idea of Moldova's accession to the Union of Belarus and Russia. He added that the possible accession of Moldova may prompt Kyiv to revise its view of the Belarus-Russia Union, including President Leonid Kuchma's "wary attitude" to this alliance. JM
U.S. WARNS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON AID. The U.S. has reminded Leonid Kuchma that he must obey the rule of law in order to keep receiving U.S. aid, Reuters reported on 1 March. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual delivered an oral message to Kuchma from President George W. Bush two days ago. "There is no change in our aid program at this point but the message that we delivered made quite clear that our ability to help them in the future depends on their ability to abide by the constitution and abide by their commitments to the rule of law," Boucher told a news briefing. Boucher said the U.S. regrets that police broke up a tent camp of anti-Kuchma protesters in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). "We call upon the Ukrainian authorities to observe their international commitment to freedom of assembly," Boucher added. JM
SOROS CALLS ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO STEP DOWN. In an article published in the 2 March "Financial Times," International financier George Soros urged Leonid Kuchma to stand down pending an inquiry into his alleged role in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "If Mr. Kuchma cares about Ukraine's survival as an independent democratic state, he must take responsibility for his actions and hand over his duties to the prime minister," Soros noted. Soros also urged the West to take a clear position by denouncing Kuchma's behavior and discontinuing doing business with the Ukrainian president until an impartial investigation has been completed. Soros, who gave more than $100 million in support to Ukraine through his Ukrainian Renaissance Foundation, said he was watching with dismay as Kuchma pressurized independent media and used "questionable methods" during the last presidential campaign. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER PREFERS DIALOGUE TO FORCE. Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in London on 1 March that as long as the possibilities to reach a "sensible compromise" have not been exhausted, the use of force against opponents of the government is "premature and inadmissible," Interfax reported. Yushchenko was commenting on the dismantling of the tent camp on Khreshchatyk Street in downtown Kyiv earlier the same day. Meanwhile, Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protest, said the authorities will be given an "adequate response" to their tearing down of the tent camp. Lutsenko said a mass protest rally will be held on 9 March, but he did not elaborate. The authorities on 2 March released all 44 protesters who were detained during the dismantling of the camp. Some of them were fined by courts. JM
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT IN KYIV. President Leonid Kuchma and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian agreed in Kyiv on 1 March to increase economic cooperation and develop trade transit routes between the two countries, AP reported. "It's very important for Ukraine to transport its goods through Armenia to Iran and vice versa," Kuchma said. The presidents signed a joint statement and several agreements, including one on economic cooperation for 2001-2010. Kocharian said he sees some hope for settling the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave during a meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev on 4-5 March in Paris. JM
SPS TO COOPERATE WITH UKRAINIAN PARTY AGAINST PRO-USSR GROUPS. Russia's SPS and Ukraine's Reforms and Order Party agreed in Kyiv on 1 March to coordinate their activities in order to form a counterweight to leftist groups in both countries who at present "'have monopolized Ukrainian-Russian relations and speak about the return of the USSR." PG