Mejdani and Mesić: Independence for Kosovo
On Friday, 16 June, Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani welcomed Croatian President Stipe Mesić at Tirana's Rinas Airport for his second visit to the country. After a one-on-one meeting, the two presidents declared that "the future of Kosovo is independence." Mesić added that the regime of Belgrade dictator Slobodan Milošević is the true menace to the region.
According to diplomatic sources, the two presidents also discussed the Dalmatian transport corridor, which starts at the Croatian coast, passes through Montenegro and follows the Albanian coastline. Mesić will also meet with Prime Minister Ilir Meta and most of Albania's top government authorities during his stay.
Local election boycott in offing?
On Monday, the Central Election Commission (CEC) elected Fotaq Nano as chairman. The vote for the post of chairman of the CEC was declared by the Commission to be politically impartial, but opposition parties have expressed scepticism. The CEC should consist of seven members and, at present, has only six. The missing member is supposed to be elected by Parliament after nomination by the opposition parties, which so far have not recognised the CEC.
Opposition parties have demanded greater vigilance in local elections and declared that they will accept only the local - not the national - results. Some analysts fear an opposition boycott, headed by former President Sali Berisha, of the upcoming elections. If the boycott takes place, the political stability of Albania could be jeopardised.
Frowick snubs Berisha
Robert Frowick, former US Ambassador and US Special Envoy for the Albanian election mission, visited Tirana last week. Frowick met with President Rexhep Mejdani, Prime Minister Ilir Meta and Sabri Godo, President of the Republican Party Assembly and head of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission.
Frowick did not meet with Democratic Party President Sali Berisha, but did talk with leaders of the party's Reform Group, including Genc Pollo, Ferdinand Xhaferri and Leonard Demi.
Berisha and his faction of the Democratic Party have acquiesced to the Reform Group's demand that they be accepted within the party. Frowick told reporters that he did not meet Berisha because the party president was away from Tirana, but some analysts have interpreted Frowick's meeting with the Reform Group as a challenge to Berisha's conservative policies.
Talks to open on Greek troops near Tirana
The Council of Ministers has authorised the Ministry of Defence to begin talks with Greece on the future of the Greek military squadron currently stationed in Yzberisht, near Tirana. The Greek squadron has been based in Albania since the crisis of 1997, in the wake of which Albania's military needed help in restructuring.
Opposition parties recently refused to support an extension of the Greek-Albanian military agreement and have, in fact, objected to the Greek military presence from the outset.
According to Council of Ministers spokesman Thoma Gelci, the government has refused to extend the Greek military presence in Albania for "technical reasons." A possible compromise between the two governments could transform the Greek presence from a military to a logistical force.
Stability Pact members to drop visa requirements?
In an interview with the newspaper Shekulli, Leonard Demi, a member of Parliament and of the Democratic Party's Reform Grpup, demanded that the visa system between Stability Pact countries be abolished.
"Abolishing visas will decrease tensions between the countries and people of the region. The recent decades of transition, nationalism, conflicts and wars have divided our region economically and socially. The situation has interrupted the free movement of goods and people," Demi said.
Demi called on the Foreign Minister and other authorities to work with Stability Pact member countries to try to abolish the visa system within Southeastern Europe. Citing the Stability Pact's goals of increasing regional integration and enhancing economic development, Demi said that abolishing the visa system is fundamental to realising the Pact's aims.
Durrës, Vlora ports to benefit from US grant
The American Trade and Development Agency (ATDA) has created a fund to be used to improve the Albanian seaports of Durrës and Vlora. ATDA Director Joseph Grandmaison has already signed the USD 2.5 million grant on behalf of the Southern Balkan Development Initiative (SBDI) recently announced by US President Bill Clinton.
The USD 30 million SBDI will be implemented over a four-year period. ATDA will be responsible for implementing the initiative, the goal of which is to assist Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria in developing and integrating their transportation infrastructures along the East-West Corridor.
Highway projects have international ramifications
Prime Minister Ilir Meta confirmed last week in an address to Parliament that "the government has increased investment in the infrastructure of northern Albania by 215 percent, while foreign financing has increased by 170 percent."
Meta said a priority has been established for improving the main highways from Tirana to Hani i Hotit and Durrës to Morine. He said the government is committed to completing the Tirana-Hani i Hotit road by 20 August 2000 and has allocated USD 4 million for the task, while an additional USD 47 million has been earmarked for the Durrës-Morine section.
The two north Albanian highway projects have great political significance because they will connect Albania with Montenegro and Kosovo, and support for their completion has been requested from the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe.
Highway construction controversy continues
Following the Prime Minister's recent criticism of foreign companies involved in the reconstruction of Albanian national highways, the newspaper Gazeta Shqiptare has published an article that places most of the responsibility for the delays on supervisory companies designated by Brussels.
According to the article, the nine highway contractors are supervised by five Italian, Greek and French companies, each of which has been paid at least USD 1.1 million for supervising one segment of the roadwork. Brussels, Gazeta reports, had full responsibility for designating these supervisory companies.
The companies have given the Albanian government various reasons to justify their delays, but they have had nothing to say about the poor quality of the work, for which they should be held responsible.
WTO membership by 15 July?
Albania will be a member of the World Trade Organisation by 15 July, a seminar organised in Tirana by representatives of the WTO and the Albanian government predicted this week. Membership in the organisation raises the possibility that Albanian products will soon be of the same quality as those of other WTO members. Within 10 years, Albania is expected to sign bilateral and multilateral agreements that will significantly reduce reciprocal customs tariffs for a variety of products.
Zog honored with Tirana street
Last week, the Municipality of Tirana named one of the capital's most important roads after former King Zog I. In 45 years as a Communist country, Albania ignored King Zog I's many contributions to Albanian history, and the king's son was prohibited from entering the country over a 50-year period.
The president of the Movement of Legality Party proposed the name change to municipal authorities in Tirana and, despite objections from some left-wing parties, the decision was finally approved. A dedication ceremony to be held on 24 June is seen locally as a positive step toward reconciliation between the extreme political factions in the city.
Economic co-operation with Greece
In Tirana last week, the Albanian Unions of Trade, Commerce and Industry, in co-operation with the Greek Embassy in Tirana, held a meeting with their Greek counterparts. In his address to the meeting, Luan Bregasi, president of the Albanian Trade and Commerce Union, placed great value on the significance of the presence of Greek companies in Albania and praised the Albanian government for adopting liberal fiscal policies that would contribute to development.
The meeting was also attended by the Minister of Agriculture.
Artur Nura, 17 June 2000