Albania and Montenegro have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Protocol of Cooperation to further economic, commercial and cultural cooperation between the two countries. Foreign Ministers Paskal Milo and Branko Lukovać signed the agreements for Albania and Montenegro, respectively. Belgrade broke off diplomatic relations with Tirana at the start of NATO's bombing of ex-Yugoslavia in March of last year, and Milo is the first Albanian foreign minister to visit Montenegro in 50 years. The foreign minister also met with Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister Filip Vujanović and the president of the Montenegrin parliament. In all meetings, Milo made reference to Montenegro's population, which includes 45,000 ethnic Albanians out of a total 650,000 Montenegrins. During his visit he also met with ethnic Albanian representatives. The two countries declared that as part of the European Union-sponsored Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe they would work on joint projects such as railroads, roads and power projects. Additional border openings are also planned.
Alex Draganic, the Serbian-American former diplomat and current professor of political science in Washington, DC, recently declared his conviction that Kosovo will be divided. Draganic stated that the division of Kosovo will happen forcibly and that every day, America and Europe are more convinced that the Kosovo crisis can be resolved only by division of the territory between Albanians and Serbs. The former diplomat accused US foreign policy of being misguided and emphasised the desire of Albanians for full independence of an undivided Kosovo. According to Newsweek, he believes that if Albanians accept no other solution, Western countries will insist they have NATO troops in Kosovo for another 50 years. To most analysts, however, Draganic's opinion is clearly wrong. Albanians would certainly prefer NATO's presence for another hundred years to the presence of a Serbian military force perceived as being collectively criminal.
During the last week, various Albanian organisations in Kosovo organised protests aimed at focussing international public opinion and the attention of the international community on the Albanian prisoners being held in Serbia. The massive protest meetings included one held in Pristina by artists who demanded the release of all political prisoners, especially Professor Flora Borovina and the student leader Albin Kurti. Bernard Kushner, UN representative in Kosovo, participated in the protests. The European Parliament has recently approved resolutions to pressure the Milošević regime to release the Albanian prisoners.
Albania plans to create four free-trade zones, including its largest port city, Durres, and another city near the border with Montenegro, said Qirjako Theodori, head of the National Board for Free-trade Zones, on Wednesday. "In co-operation with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Durres Industrial Park has been designated as the first free-trade zone," according to Theodhori. The draft law states that an investor can operate in the free-trade zone for 35 years. Companies operating in it would be exempt from import duties and a 20 percent value-added tax (VAT) but not from taxes on profits.
In June, Albanian Mobile Communication (AMC) will finalise privatisation proceedings. The Commission of Consultancy and Transparency has held its latest meeting in the Public Economy Ministry, headed by Mustafa Muci. The Commission set a value on AMC and determined other aspects of the international tender for privatising the utility. The Italian consulting firm IMI also reported to the Commission. The Albanian Government has recently decided to sell 85 per cent of its financial holdings in this state-owned company. According to the terms set by Government, offers from international companies will be judged 80 per cent according to the amount of the bid and 20 per cent on the business plan and investment to be developed by the potential new owner. After the last qualifying round, four companies are still competing on the offer: Telenor International in cooperation with Cosmote, Telecom Italia in cooperation with Mobilkom Austria, Turkcell, and Panaphon in co-operation with Vadaphon. 15 May is the final day for entering offers, and on 17 May the secret bids will be opened. On 30 May, Government will open negotiations with the winner, and the proceedings will be finalised in June.
Prime Minister Ilir Meta recently sent a warning to the international companies working inside Albania on Corridor 8 transport infrastructure projects. Some of these companies, such as the heavily criticised Greek firm Sarantopoulos, are not fulfilling the terms of the contracts they signed with the Government, especially in regards to the completion dates of projects. Sarantopoulos has been accused of delaying its work intentionally because of Greece's political position relating to Corridor 8. Meta also met recently with the mayors of Albanian cities along Corridor 8 and the respective representatives of the firms, appealing for greater responsibility and demanding that all schedules be met.
According a spokesman at the Ministry of Finance, the Albanian Government has obtained a credit of USD 6.5 million from the World Bank. The credit has been extended for the project "Reform and Privatisation of Financial Sectors," which was signed this week in Washington by representatives of the World Bank and the Finance Ministry. Albania's State Bank, Savings Bank and Insurance Institute (INSIG) will benefit from the credit, especially in the privatisation of the last two state institutions.
In the city of Elbasan, Albanian President Mejdani met the Permanent Representative of the United Nations, Jan Wahlberg, and US Ambassador Joseph Limprecht to inaugurate a United Nations "Weapons for Development" programme. The United States has donated USD 1 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for this disarmament project in Albania. After the Albanian crisis of 1997, other such projects were started in various Albanian cities. US actor Michael Douglas last year visited the city of Gramsh as part of the UN programme.
The European Bank of Development and Reconstruction (EBDR) has approved a loan of USD 30 million for Albanian Telecom (AT), according to the Ministry for the Public Economy. The funds will be used to extend the national and international telecom network within Albania. EBDR's financial support will contribute to an improved administrative organisation and financial situation at AT and will aid in the development of a new tariff strategy. It is predicted that AT, a state institution, will soon be privatised.
The local press has been calling the last week the Week of Albanian Cinematography and Albanian Domestic Products. The XIth Albanian Film Festival showcased a rich parade of films for four days at the Millennium Cinema in Tirana. The Festival, which opened its doors on Tuesday 24 April to thousands of filmgoers, has shown documentary, short and feature films. During the same week, the Tirana International Centre was visited by thousands of spectators and buyers at a business exposition featuring dozens of Albanian companies that produce domestic products.
Artur Nura, 28 April 2000