Prime Minister Ilir Meta reshuffled his cabinet this week, replacing the ministers of public transport, justice and defence in an action seen as an attempt to strengthen his position in the executive branch.
The three newly appointed ministers belong to coalition parties and have promised the prime minister that they will work to achieve his governmental program. Most of the opposition parties have expressed scepticism about the move.
"Sacking ministers in Meta's cabinet," said Democratic Party President Sali Berisha, "clearly proves the inability of Meta's government to govern the country." Berisha added that "Meta should have resigned rather than create the fifth government in three years of Socialist rule."
According to press reports, President Rexhep Mejdani has not approved Meta's shuffle. The Presidential Information Office said, after the ceremony installing the new ministers, that the president had praised the commitment and work of the outgoing ministers, adding that "there were no serious problems in their areas of responsibility that warranted the reshuffling."
Opposition to UNMIK deal
Albania opposes last week's deal between moderate Kosovar Serb leader Bishop Artemije and Bernard Kouchner's United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) because it might lead to the "cantonization" of Kosovo itself, said Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on Thursday.
The deal promised the Serbs, most of whom now live in enclaves heavily guarded by the NATO-led peacekeeping force, better security and access to services, and also included plans to set up a "neighbourhood watch" system. A task force will look at improving security and special local administration offices will be established in Serb areas.
While welcoming efforts to draw the minority Serbs into a process of interethnic cooperation with ethnic Albanians, Milo said that the deal had raised the spectre of cantonization.
"We are against any ideas or projects that aim, even indirectly, at the cantonization of Kosova," said Milo.
Echoing Milo, Sabri Godo, head of the Albanian Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs, said granting the Serbs "special protection troops" and self-government was unacceptable.
"This deal," Godo said, "could be dangerous because it could lead to partition of a chunk of Kosova and would encourage Serbs to carry out what they have always had in mind."
Relations with Greece souring?
Foreign Minister Paskal Milo reported to the Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs this week on the possible departure of Greek military forces from Albanian soil. Greek forces have been in Albania since the nation's domestic troubles in the late 1990s, having first arrived to help train and advise Albanian military formations. Milo and other government officials have recently raised the notion of asking Greece to withdraw its forces or reconfigure the deployment to focus on technical assistance. (See previous News from Albania reports)
In his report, Milo also advised that Albania should ask its southern neighbour to abandon the Law of War that has been in effect in Greece since 1941. The law has been frozen for some time but has never been rescinded, and has impeded the development of positive relations between the two countries.
Under its provisions, Albanian rights to properties owned in Greece have been frozen, and the climate of hostility it has engendered has worsened the situation of ethnic Albanian prisoners in Greek jails. It has also encouraged acts of violence against Albanian refugees in Greece.
Meanwhile, another incident has threatened bilateral relations. Greek police have protested an armed attack by unidentified Lazarati villagers against a Greek-dominated minority village, and a Greek spokesperson has said that relations between Greece and Albania are on the wrong track.
WTO membership this month?
Albania ended eight years of negotiations on terms for joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week, and Oman is likely to follow suit later this week, a WTO official said on Tuesday.
The accession protocol for Albania, and possibly Oman, is due to be formally approved at a meeting of the WTO's General Council on 17 July. Albania's entry into the WTO had been blocked for a month by disagreements between the United States and the European Union over the rules Albania should implement on imports of films and television programs.
A deal was reached last month when the US accepted the formula already applied to WTO members Latvia and Estonia, allowing both Albania and Croatia to impose import restrictions.
Partial boycott of lefty meeting
A conference of regional left-wing political parties took place last week in Tirana. Although some Serbian opposition leaders and Kosovar Albanian political officials were invited to attend, the Kosovar delegations failed to appear. Kosovar reluctance to meet with Serb politicians was believed to be the main reason for their absence.
The Kosovo issue was discussed on the second day of the conference, and representatives of the region's left noted that Hashim Thaçi and Ibraim Rugova had not sent representatives to the meetings.
Call for more privatisation
Christian Poortman, director of the World Bank for Southeastern Europe, said at a press conference this week that the government should increase the pace of privatisation to create a favourable economic environment that will attract foreign investors, increase private investments, increase exports and create more jobs.
While praising the progress made so far, Poortman insisted on speeding up the privatisation of strategic enterprises, including the selection of a second operator for Albanian Mobile Communication (AMC) and completion of the privatisation of Albtelcom and the Albanian Saving Bank.
Poortman mentioned that the majority of media enterprises have already been privatised, and that privatisation of the remaining few will be completed in the coming months.
Siemens wants in
Siemens, the giant electrical engineering and electronics company, has asked to participate in bidding for the second mobile telecommunications contract in Albania. Sources in the Public Economy and Privatisation Ministry say that Siemens' directors confirmed that the quick pace of privatisation in Albania has attracted their attention.
Siemens AG Österreich (Austria) is a leader in the public and private electronic technology market in Austria and is one of the most successful companies currently operating in the Balkans.
Just one month ago, the Albanian government concluded a USD 85.6 million privatisation agreement with the Norwegian company Telenor International and Greece's Cosmote for the country's first mobile network.
Artur Nura, 8 July 2000
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