Armenian Assassin's Trail May Lead to Officials

March 15 (Stratfor)

Five months ago, the world briefly took notice of a violent and abrupt event in the southern Caucasus, a hostage situation that ultimately led to the death of the prime minister. At the time, it appeared that the violence was the act of a small group of gunmen. Now, it appears that the incident might have been a coup, staged by people within the government.

It is unclear who exactly was behind the incident last October. But in the aftermath, President Robert Kocharian has been able to capitalize on the domestic political situation. He has become the most powerful politician in the country and attempted to ensure that his influence outweighs the prime minister's; the opposite of Armenia's traditional allocation of power. To date, gridlock has prevented Kocharian from gaining complete control. Now, Kocharian is looking for greater control of the military.

On Oct. 27, 1999 five gunmen burst into the Armenian parliament killing Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian as he delivered an address. They shot him at close range and killed nine others in a spray of bullets, including speaker of the parliament, Karen Demirchian. The gunmen held approximately 30 hostages for several hours before surrendering.

Sarkisian and Demirchian were by far the most popular, powerful politicians in Armenia. Sarkisian, although Kocharian's rival, was appointed in June 1999 to ease tensions between the parliament and the executive government. Until their deaths, President Kocharian stood in their shadows. In the past several months he has bolstered his presidential powers and tried to water down the position of prime minister by appointing a candidate whom he probably expected to be powerless and easy to manipulate.

Initially, the gunmen were touted as nationalist extremists trying to prevent a peace agreement over the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The military prosecutor has led a five-month long investigation into the attack.

The lead gunman, in his testimony, has reportedly linked the president with the attack, according to Tass. Nairi Unanyan, now in custody awaiting trial, has said that he was told that after he stormed the parliament and killed the prime minister, Kocharian would come to the parliament building and be forced to sign a decree appointing Unanyan to a key government post. The investigators also reported that Unanyan expected reinforcements to arrive, and when none did, he surrendered.

To date, 18 people have been arrested in connection with the shooting, many of them with government connections. Musheg Movsesian, a member of parliament, was stripped of parliamentary immunity and arrested Nov. 6. The gunmen said Movsesian supplied them with weapons and ammunition for the attack. Sgt. Armen Gasparian was arrested Dec. 13 for assistance and instigation; he was the guard on duty at the main entrance and did not stop the gunmen from entering parliament. On Dec. 21, the presidential advisor on diplomatic affairs and former chief of staff Alexan Arutiunian was arrested for complicity in the shooting. This year, the deputy director of Armenian national television, Arutun Arutunian, and interior ministry official Armen Aroutounian were arrested.

Other unexplained high-level deaths and resignations have also stemmed from the October attack. In the days after the murders, both Interior Minister Suren Abramian and

National Security Minister Serge Sarkisian submitted their resignations. Abramian was rumored to have been absent from parliament the day of the shooting. Then on Nov. 9, the Armenian defense ministry's chief of armaments, Major Vardan Gnuni, was killed when a bomb exploded in his office. On March 3 the opposition Unity bloc called for the President to immediately fire Sarkisian and national television executive director, Tigran Nagdalyan, whom Unity accused of interfering with the investigation.

Kocharian intentionally appointed a new prime minister who on the face of it seemed to be a weak opponent. He named Sarkisian's brother, Aram Sarkisian, who had previously been the manager of a cement factory, but had no previous political experience. However, like his brother, he was a veteran of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed ethnic Armenian enclave in neighboring Azerbaijan. By appointing Aram, Kocharian may have hoped to hold on to nationalist support for the government, exploit sentimentality for the martyred premier and still maintain sole control of the government.

But, Aram now resists Kocharian's policies even more insistently than Aram's brother did. The friction between the president, prime minister and their supporters over the past months has blocked most domestic and international initiatives from proceeding. The most blatant result of this is the stagnation of talks with Azerbaijan for peace in nearby Nagorno-Karabakh.

Despite his actions aimed at gaining greater political autonomy, Kocharian still finds himself struggling to solidify his support base. Recently, he began taking severe measures to gain the military leadership's support, until now loyal to the former prime minister. On March 6, Kocharian signed a decree reasserting the president's constitutional role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He listed the posts that he can dismiss and replace, including the staff of the supreme command and all senior officers.

October's deadly attack no longer looks like the random act of a crazed nationalist, but rather a conspiracy from within the government. What Kocharian knew � and when he knew it � is unclear, but the Armenian president ultimately gained an opportunity to seize sweeping control and influence in Armenia.

Oil firm raises$1m in placing

March 15 (Irish times)

Celtic Resources Holdings has raised about $1 million (euro 1.04 million) through the placing of 6,086,775 new shares at a price of 11.25p sterling per share.

The proceeds will be used for the initial development work at the Nezhdaninskoye gold mine in Sakha Republic (the largest Republic in the Russian Federation), the development of the Tamdykol on-shore oil property in Kazakhstan, and for working capital.

Celtic has also announced that it has agreed terms for the acquisition of a further interest in a North Sea gas field. And it has agreed terms for the acquisition, subject to contract, and shareholder approval, of certain oil, gold and other mineral interests, in Kazakhstan.

One of the companies is Millennium whose main asset is an 80 per cent interest in exploration and production for the Tamdykol oil deposit in northwest Kazakhstan.

13 Afghan Drug Traffickers Killed In One Day On Tajik Border

DUSHANBE, March 15

(Agence France Presse)

Thirteen Afghan drug traffickers were killed Tuesday in two separate clashes with Tajik border guards, a border guard spokesman said Wednesday.

It was the heaviest single day's toll since the start of the year on the Afghan-Tajik border, where drugs produced in Afghanistan cross on their way to the markets in Europe and Russia.

No border guards were hurt in the clashes, their spokesman said.

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