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INTERNATIONAL GROUP'S STUDY OF MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES PROVES INCONCLUSIVE. The Vienna-based International Press Institute on 28 February said it cannot prove the authenticity of the tapes publicized by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, which link Kuchma to the disappearance and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Acting on a request from a Ukrainian parliamentary commission, the institute said it consulted a number of technical experts who stated that it was nearly impossible to determine whether the digitally recorded tapes had been manipulated. Simultaneously, the institute said it is hard to believe that the hundreds of hours of recordings have been doctored. "If the existing evidence had consisted only of the approximately 25-minute-long recordings related to the Gongadze case, one could possibly imagine some manipulations or doctoring by a 'potential aggressor,'" the institute said in a statement. An RFE/RL correspondent who recently met with Melnychenko wrote in the 28 February "Daily Telegraph" that Melnychenko has 1,000 hours of recordings. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March)
STUDENTS PROTEST KUCHMA HOMAGE TO NATIONAL POET. Some 20 Ukrainian students from Kyiv and Lviv set up a camp of five tents in the capital's central park to continue protests demanding President Leonid Kuchma's resignation. Last week police tore down a camp of 50 tents on Khreshchatyk Street in downtown Kyiv. Kuchma is due to visit the park on 9 March to lay flowers at the monument to national poet Taras Shevchenko in commemoration of poet's birthday. Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protests, said some 1,000 people will come to the park on 9 March to prevent Kuchma from approaching the monument. "Shevchenko is a sacred person for our nation, and it is amoral for President Kuchma to come here," Reuters quoted one student as saying. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)
INTERNATIONAL SLEUTHS TO LOOK FOR UKRAINIAN DEFECTOR? President Kuchma told reporters from Poland's PAP news agency in Kyiv on 5 March that Ukraine has requested help from Western private detective agencies in investigating the bugging scandal provoked by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that international detectives are working independently from Ukrainian investigators. Referring to Melnychenko, Kuchma said: "Some say he is a hero, but the majority of people say he is a traitor, and I agree with them. For me, he is not a human at all." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March)
SEMINAR EXAMINES MEDIA'S ROLE IN PREVENTING AIDS. A seminar about the media's role in preventing the spread of AIDS in Eastern Europe was held last month in Kiev, Ukraine, according to a recent UNESCO release. The event, organized by UNESCO and the Ukrainian Institute of Journalism "Taras Shevchenko," brought together more than 40 journalists and several HIV/AIDS experts from more than 12 Eastern European countries. By the end of 2000, it was estimated that about 36 million people in the region were infected with HIV or AIDS, UNESCO reported. The Kiev seminar was the first regional effort in preparation for the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS, from 25 to 27 June, the release said. For more information, visit UNESCO's release at http://www.unesco.org/webworld/news/2001/010223_media_aids. shtml (International Journalists Network, 5 March)
RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky and two other journalists met in mid-February with Mykola Melnychenko, the former bodyguard of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma who secretly tape-recorded the president.
Below is the second part of Krushelnycky's account of the meeting written for RFE/RL on 1 March and dealing with the Gongadze case:
Mykola Melnychenko fled Ukraine on 26 November -- two days before the publication of excerpts from secret tapes he had made of his former boss, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Melnychenko, who served as a presidential bodyguard for seven years, says he decided to publish the excerpts in the wake of last September's disappearance of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.
The debate over the authenticity of the tapes -- which purportedly have Kuchma saying he wished Gongadze could be kidnapped by Chechen "bandits" -- will not be resolved quickly.
Kuchma's aides have said that the tapes, which have fueled recent protests in Ukraine calling for Kuchma's ouster, were manipulated to alter the meaning of his recorded remarks. Perhaps feeling the heat of mounting public pressure, Kuchma himself wrote a letter published 27 February in Britain's "Financial Times" newspaper saying the attacks against him were politically motivated. He added that Gongadze's death, although tragic, was not grounds for a murder accusation, and called allegations of his involvement "completely untrue."
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) has been asked by Ukrainian investigators to arrange for an independent analysis of Melnychenko's digital tapes to determine whether they had been altered. In a statement released on 28 February, IPI said that the nature of digital recording made it impossible to say "with a nearly absolute level of certainty" that the tapes had not been tampered with. It added, however, that the finding "does not imply that the tapes are inauthentic."
Melnychenko had said he was waiting for the IPI results before releasing more excerpts of his recordings regarding the Gongadze case and other criminal dealings by Kuchma. It is not clear how he will proceed now. But for those who trust the authenticity of the tapes, the new excerpts still in Melnychenko's possession may provide additional details about the disappearance and death of the outspoken journalist.
Gongadze's headless corpse was discovered in a wood outside the Ukrainian capital Kyiv weeks after his disappearance on 16 September. In the interview with RFE/RL, Melnychenko said the still-unreleased excerpts indicate that Gongadze was meant to be "removed" even earlier. But he said the journalist unwittingly bought himself time by filing a complaint that he was being followed with Deputy Interior Minister Yury Opasenko.
According to the former bodyguard, Gongadze gave Opasenko the license plate numbers of the cars he said had been following them. The deputy minister then caused delays by making official inquiries about the cars, which he traced back to the state security services.
Melnychenko said his recording captures Interior Minister Yury Kravchenko telling Kuchma that Opasenko was not trustworthy and that he regretted not firing him earlier.
On 16 September, a Saturday, Kuchma and Kravchenko were together on a hunting expedition. Four days later, when the press had already begun to ask questions about Gongadze's disappearance, Melnychenko says he recorded Kuchma asking a security official whether the journalist was alive or dead. Kuchma goes on to say that Gongadze should be found because the situation looked bad for the president.
Melnychenko said that at this stage Kuchma already knew Gongadze was dead, and was only feigning concern. The former bodyguard said of the Ukrainian president: "Kuchma can be a very good actor and he is a very cunning man."
Since leaving his homeland three months ago, Melnychenko has been living in hiding with his wife and their four-year-old daughter. Ukraine has issued a warrant for his arrest, and Melnychenko said he is aware of intelligence efforts to track him down.
He also said he is worried about his family's safety and is concerned that Kuchma's allies may have hired professional killers to find him. But he said he has no plans to seek permanent asylum.
"I have not applied for political asylum in any country because I expected, and still expect, that the situation in Ukraine will change for the better, that Kuchma will leave and democratic forces will come to the government," Melnychenko said.
Melnychenko told his interviewers he hopes to return to Ukraine to testify if Kuchma goes to trial. He said he is afraid that if he applied for political asylum Kuchma's supporters would use that to discredit him and the authenticity of his recordings.
"Why should I ask for political asylum? Why should I be afraid? Of whom, Kuchma? He should be frightened of me. If I ask for political asylum in another country, that will immediately provoke a misleading reaction from Kuchma's people. They would say, 'Look, he's frightened, he's fleeing from justice.' But I'm not frightened. If these recordings were fake, then I would have sought political asylum straight after the first excerpts were published. But I am confident [of the tapes' authenticity] and Kuchma also knows that these recordings are accurate," Melnychenko said.
Melnychenko dismissed claims by the Kuchma administration that he is an employee of foreign intelligence agencies looking to destabilize Ukraine. He says frustration with the rampant corruption he saw in the presidential office is the only reason behind his decision to put the safety of himself and his family at risk. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report," 6 March)
UKRAINIAN POLICE CLASH WITH ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS. Some 200 people demonstrating against President Leonid Kuchma were beaten back by riot police in Kyiv on 9 March, Reuters reported. Police officers used batons to force the crowd to retreat from a park where Kuchma was laying flowers at a statue of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko. Kuchma arrived earlier than expected, laid the flowers, and quickly left the area. "We cannot allow these people to prevent the president from carrying out his duties in a state ceremony," Yevhen Marchuk, head of the Council of National Security and Defense, told the agency before the event. Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko said 200 police troops were involved in the action. Witnesses estimated that at least 2,000 police and some 400 anti-riot police troops sealed off the park, while water cannon trucks were parked nearby. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON NATION TO HELP FLOOD VICTIMS. President Kuchma has called on authoritative bodies, political and public organizations, and all citizens to help the residents of Zakarpattya (Transcarpathia), which has been flooded by the rising rivers Tysa and Latorytsya, Interfax reported on 8 March. The flood inundated some 200 settlements, forced nearly 13,000 Ukrainians to leave their homes, and killed six people. Some 40,000 people on both sides of the Ukrainian-Hungarian border are working to repair damage and prevent the situation from worsening. JM