Phone tapping: who, what, when, why?
The phone tapping debacle has hit a new low this week, with heated exchanges between the primary actors (leader of the opposition Social Democratic Alliance Branko Crvenkovski for the prosecution and Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska for the defence) and general "revelations" as to the targets of the phone tappers and the security implications of both the tapping and public dissemination of the transcripts.
On Tuesday 6 February, Crvenkovski announced that an anonymous source had forwarded additional material in form of shorthand reports of conversations involving 70 individuals (including President Trajkovski, Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Krstevski, Foreign Minister Srgan Kerim, assistant ministers Blazevski and Dimovski, and MPs Arben Dzaferi, Ljupcho Anusev, Ismet Tamadani, Radmila Sekerinska, Lazar Kitanovski) to the investigative judge in charge of the case.
Crvenkovski and the Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM) say they have evidence to prove that the phone tapping was carried out by the 5th Operative Technical Administration of the Ministry of Interior (MVR), which reports directly to Minister Dosta Dimovska. This would mean a direct link between the tapping and Dimovska, something she has avidly denied. The investigation of the affair continues, and evidence has been heard this week from several ministers, including Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski confirmed the authenticity of the shorthand reports, announcing that Crvenkovski would be prosecuted for revealing the contents of the shorthand reports without consulting him first, thus causing a potential security leak.
Government press releases this week have branded Crvenkovski a "verbal terrorist and collaborator of foreign secret services," announcing that charges will be brought against him for slander. Minister Dimovska went on to suggest that it is not accidental that this act of "verbal terrorism" coincides with recent terrorist activities in the Macedonia, as both aim to destabilise the country.
On Thursday, the issue became more complicated as it appeared that what was, in fact, in question was the existence of a parallel tapping operation, separate from the one legitimately carried out by the MVR. Dimovska answered questions from the supervisory commission monitoring the activities of the Security and Intelligence Office and the Investigation Agency, and requested a thorough investigation of the scandal, stating that professional and state secrets must not be used for political marketing since it could threaten the country's security. A commission member later said that she had co-operated fully with the inquiry, providing extra information on the case.
The findings of the commission may be released as early as next week and will be followed by a parliamentary session, in which the phone tapping case will be discussed.
President Trajkovski in Washington
During his visit, President Boris Trajkovski met several high-ranking officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, to assess the impact of the new administration on US policy in the Balkans and Macedonia. Powell praised Macedonian policy, especially regarding ethnic relations, and said that the two countries shared a common goal. He pledged US assistance for regional and national stabilisation. The visit is expected to yield returns for Macedonia through training initiatives, support for equipment and intelligence information.
Interior Minister Dimovska in Kosovo
Recent events in the Preševo Valley region of southern Serbia have been closely observed in Macedonia, as politicians and the media are painfully aware that deterioration in security there could have major implications in Macedonia, not least due to potential refugees crossing the border.
During a visit to Kosovo, Interior Minister Dimovska emphasised that the Macedonian government had already upgraded security arrangements on the border, for example, placing more guards in watchtowers. She went on to say that she considered the situation in the Preševo Valley to be stable, although exacerbated by recent events. Despite the upsurge in fighting in the area, there have been no recent outbreaks on the border.
SSI gives economy update
Figures released by the State Statistics Institute (SSI) this week show Macedonia's GDP for 2000 to be up by 5.1% on the previous year; ahead of 1999's 2.7% but lagging behind the government's projected 5.5% and the target of 6% agreed on with the IMF. The country recorded a trade deficit of USD 737 million last year, a dramatic increase that exceeded the projected USD 540 million and was largely ascribed to the introduction of the unpopular Value Added Tax. Foreign investment rose to USD 121.8 million in 2000, mostly due to big sell-offs. The SSI ranked the EUR 362.5 million sale of a 51% stake in Maktel to a consortium led by Hungarian Matáv as the highest ever foreign investment in Macedonia (Reuters).
What's in a name?
There have been intense talks this week between Macedonia and Greece as they struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over the name of the country currently officially known as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The issue has prevented bilateral co-operation for ten years now, and both countries have finally agreed that a swift end to the dispute will be mutually beneficial.
Dnevnik quoted an anonymous, but apparently senior, government official on Thursday as saying Greece had proposed a compromise: that Macedonia adopt the prefix "Northern" in return for economic aid, abolition of visas for its citizens and strong support for faster EU integration. This is a new suggestion and, if true, represents a considerable step forward in the negotiations between the two countries, which have previously been stymied by Greek insistence that the Republic drop all claim to the term "Macedonia," suggesting alternatives such as "Central Vardar Republic." This offer has not yet been made formally or confirmed by the government but is widely believed to be on the table.
And in other news...
- Dnevnik reports that the Macedonian government rescinded a proposal to upgrade Skopje airport, as it is unable to raise the USD 80 million needed for the reconstruction.
- The Tetovo police station received an anonymous call on Saturday threatening a terrorist attack. The call was traced to a mobile phone in Kosovo, and the station has boosted its security as a result. No attack has yet transpired .
- Three Democratic Alternative (DA) MPs have left their party and joined the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). The DA left the government coalition last year in an unsuccessful attempt to topple the government. This is a boost for the government, which currently enjoys the slenderest of majorities.
- Macedonia's main electricity company, Elektrostopanstvo, will open negotiations with Czech firm Hydropol regarding the leasing of seven small power plants in Macedonia.
Eleanor Pritchard, 9 February 2001
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