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Kosovo: Steiner Optimistic About Future Relations With Albania

  • Alban Bala

The Albanian government and the United Nations administration of Kosovo have agreed to reduce cross-border taxes in the near future. Michael Steiner, the the UN secretary-general's special representative in Kosovo, paid a two-day visit to Tirana last week. He said he found full understanding and support by the Albanian authorities regarding his stance on issues affecting Kosovo.

Tirana, 22 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Only 1 percent of Albania's trade activity passes through Kosovo. Analysts say the low profile of economic exchange between the two is caused by an average tax of 26 percent that is levied against Albanian goods in Kosovar customs.

About 90 percent of the nearly 2 million people in the United Nations-administered protectorate are of Albanian descent. But even the flow of travelers between the two areas has decreased dramatically because of insurance charges applied to cars crossing the border.

Michael Steiner, the UN's chief administrator for Kosovo, recently paid a two-day visit to Tirana. He told RFE/RL that these insurance fees will soon be lifted so that cross-border traffic can increase. "Freedom of movement is, of course, important for the people. We don't need visas anymore between Kosovo and Albania, but there are still these motor-insurance charges on the border for the vehicles. These charges are more than 30 euros for cars and persons traveling into Albania. They are approximately 40 euros for those traveling into Kosovo. They hinder tourism. They hinder trade and travel. And we agree that we need to get rid of these charges. We must reduce to zero these charges in both directions," Steiner said.

Steiner said he signed a memorandum of understanding with the authorities in Tirana that he said will pave the way for a free-trade agreement between Albania and regional Balkan states. "I think there is also scope for further cooperation in the energy sector. And finally let me mention that we signed [last week] the memorandum of understanding on economic cooperation, which means that the procedural mistakes which have happened are now sorted out, which means that we now have a basis for economic cooperation between Albania and Kosovo," Steiner said.

Steiner also discussed with reporters his zero-tolerance plan for fighting crime. Steiner said that in his talks with Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, they had agreed to finalize a memorandum of understanding on police cooperation. He said he also spoke with senior officials about the issues of cross-border crime, the trafficking of women, smuggling, and corruption.

Steiner said he is optimistic about Kosovo's future, but that in areas such as the divided northern city of Mitrovica, "You cannot change things overnight."

"I would say that the climate all over Kosovo is changing. The Kosovars are more opened to the outside. The majority of people have understood that the return [of the Serbs and other minorities to their homes] is a necessity. It's the entry card into European-integrated structures. But I think that the situation in the north and the climate in the north is also changing. The population in the north of Mitrovica are sick and tired of the gray zone they are living in. They want exactly the same as what the other Kosovars want. They want to have a decent life. They want to have a secure environment. And they want to have a European prospective. And that's what we need to provide to Kosovo, but also including the north, and that's the direction we have to go," Steiner said.

Steiner said he recognizes the top priority for Kosovo remains economic development. The province suffers from an unemployment rate of 57 percent.

Daan Everts is former head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Mission in Pristina. During a recent visit to Tirana, he blamed Kosovo's economic difficulties on the delay in the passage of laws supporting the privatization of public property and property rights.

Kosovo's economic self-sustainability is one of the conditions the province has to fulfill before starting the phase of redefining its future status. The UN says the main condition is the establishment of a participatory and functional democracy offering a good environment for all ethnic minorities.