Much of this week's news focussed on regional initiatives, perhaps as a backlash against the obsessive navel-gazing the country indulged in during the local elections. Commentary has continued on the Yugoslav elections and several significant summits or meetings attended by various members of the Macedonian Cabinet.
Summit in Sofia
Defence Minister Ljuben Paunovski attended a two-day summit in Sofia for NATO applicant states this week. The defence ministers of the three newest NATO members (Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) and eight applicant states gathered in the Bulgarian capital to discuss possible means of integration within the North Atlantic Alliance, with formal accession of new NATO member-states likely to commence in 2002.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson attended the meeting and spoke of the importance of creating modern armed forces, NATO-compatible defence planning systems, and any other necessary reforms now. Undressed problems, he said, could later be impediments to accession.
He urged the applicants to re-double their efforts of cooperation with NATO, and in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, in anticipation of the NATO summit in 2002.
Praise was offered to the countries of the Balkan region for actions taken by the applicant countries during the crises in the former Yugoslavia (both in Kosovo and Bosnia-Hercegovina).
The failure of the Macedonian government to obtain the extradition of an ethnic Albanian from Germany on charges of terrorism, related to the bombing of four Macedonian towns, has attracted a great deal of attention and criticism this week.
Fazil Veliu was released from detention in Germany on 13 March this year, following a baffling round of "pass the buck" by various government ministries in Macedonia. The central contention appears to lie between the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Justice. At the request of the Ministry of Justice, papers for Veliu's extradition were sent to the Macedonian Embassy in Berlin, with the request that they be passed to German authorities.
However, on 15 March, the Ministry of Justice asked the Foreign Ministry to return the prepared documentation, which duly happened. The German authorities released Veliu after 45 days as the detention period was over. He is now believed to be in Albania.
It was noted by the newspaper Dnevnik that the Foreign Ministry complied with international law and codes of good practice at all stages of the proceedings, and that the blame for his release lay at the door of the Ministry of Justice.
The case has attained notoriety in Macedonia. First, for the emotive nature of the crime and second, for the statement released this week by French investigators that the delay which saw Veliu released was due to political manoeuvring by the Ministry of Justice—which is led by an Albanian.
At a time of heightened ethnic awareness in the wake of local elections and the run-up to elections in neighbouring Kosovo, such statements carry even greater weight than usual.
Parliament addresses election violence
The Parliament convened for a special session this week in order to debate irregularities and violence witnessed during the local elections. Particular attention was paid to assaults on the persons and property of certain opposition parties (in particular VMRO-VMRO). Opposition parties called for an improvement in the personal security of MPs.
The Social Democrats (SDSM), the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), VMRO-VMRO, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Socialist Party of Macedonia (SPM) requested the session after leaving parliament last week, saying they would boycott until election violence was put on the agenda.
The debate has raised some tensions between the ethnic Macedonian parties in the governing coalition, VMRO-DPMNE and Democratic Action (DA). DA spokesman Slobodan Časule said that they have no other option but to accept the explanation for the violence offered by VMRO-DPMNE, who said that their activists may have committed the incidents in some polling stations, but that they were provoked by the opposition party SDSM.
Greater Balkan union?
The Macedonian press picked up on and developed a report carried in Slobodna Dalmacija, a Croatian daily, that UN Balkan negotiator Carl Bildt has developed a proposal for the possible union of the countries of the western Balkans at the request of the EU.
The document proposes the foundation of a new Balkan union, incorporating Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia and Albania with the objective of entering the EU as a single entity. The union would dismantle customs barriers, plan common projects for development of democratic institutions, observation of human rights and for common state development, with foreign policy handled by a single body.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Aleksandar Dimitrov said that the document does not anticipate drawing new borders in the region, but stands for removing internal barriers such as customs duties.
Macedonian political parties have perceived the proposal as a trial balloon sent up to probe the new circumstances in the Balkans following the changes in Serbia, although Prime Minister Ljubčo Georgievski issued a statement to the effect that Macedonia does not support the principle of a revamped Balkan federation comprising countries from the former Yugoslav federation, despite the government's focus on regional cooperation.
A two-day summit was held in Struga this week between Stavre Džikov, public prosecutor of Macedonia, and his Albanian counterpart, Arben Rakipi. Also in attendance were the high prosecutors of Bitola and Skopje, elementary prosecutors of Ohrid, Struga, Kicevo, Gostivar and Debar and the Albanian public prosecutors from Podgradec, Peskopeja and Korça.
The summit focused on organized crime and ways to eliminate it, as well as cross-border incidents and narcotics trade.
Both public prosecutors expressed their gratitude to the Albanian and Macedonians for their full support and stressed the need for greater integration of crime-fighting efforts.
"We have to establish a regional net for the struggle against the organized crime," said Albanian public prosecutor Rakipi.
A follow-up meeting is scheduled for the beginning of 2001 in Podgradec, Albania.
And in other news...
- The debate over the use of the Albanian language in Parliament rumbles on, with Prime Minister Georgievski dismissing the subject by announcing that the "authorities" are reluctant to introduce new rules into the Parliament.
- Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski announced this week that Macedonia's funding arrangement with the International Monetary Fund will be approved by the IMF board on 4 or 5 November.
- Macedonia-Taiwan Relations: A governmental delegation, led by Minister of Justice Xhevdet Nasufi, is paying an official visit to Taiwan. The President of the Republic of China-Taiwan received the Macedonian delegation. Deputy Health Minister Muharem Nexhipi met Wednesday with his Taiwanese counterpart.
- The meeting addressed potential forms of cooperation and the possibility of establishing the presence of Taiwanese companies in Macedonia.
- The King of Belgium, King Albert II, visited Macedonia on Wednesday. He had talks with President Boris Trajkovski, before travelling on to Kosovo to meet Belgian KFOR soldiers.
Eleanor Pritchard, 16 October 2000
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