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World: Crans Montana Economic And Political Forum To Open

Prague, 24 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The ninth annual Crans Montana political and economic Forum opens tomorrow (June 25) in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana, bringing together nearly 1,000 leading businessmen and women, political and government officials, experts and journalists.

Four days of discussion are planned with plenary sessions on such topics as regional security in Southern and North Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, enlargement of the European Union (EU), the Asian economic crisis and Iran in the 21st Century.

National sessions on Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Tatarstan, the Baltics and the Balkans are also on the agenda as are specialized meetings on religion and peace, new opportunities in the information age and fight against corruption.

The Crans Montana Forum is recognized as a non-governmental international organization and has consultative status to the Council of Europe. The Forum will draw leading World Bank and EBRD officials as well as President of the European Commission Jacques Santer, Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Q.R. Aghazadech and Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano.

President of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- a politically controversial figure -- was also to attend but his presence was thrown into doubt, following a recent dispute over diplomatic housing that led to the recall of the U.S. Ambassador to Minsk and envoys from the EU and several other countries. Last week, the Minsk government said Lukashenka would be unable to attend, but provided no further details.

The issue is of interest in that Lukashenka was to be one of two keynote speakers in the plenary session on security issues in North Eastern Europe. He was also expected to unveil a new book he had commissioned to be written about himself and his aspirations for the country on the sidelines of the Forum.

Calls to Forum organizers in the final 48 hours leading up to the event confirmed general confusion on the issue of Lukashenka. RFE/RL learned that Lukashenka had informed Swiss Forum officials late last week that he would not be able to attend. Forum officials say he later reversed himself, however, again confirming his participation.

Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze will weigh in during a plenary session entitled, "Georgia: Crossroads of East and West," via satellite link.

Last year, Georgia's Prime Minister (N. Lekishvili) told participants that the end of the Cold War had confronted his country with major problems: the search for new business partners, the maintenance of economic and political ties with neighboring countries, and inter-ethnic conflicts. All are topics likely to be revisited and expanded upon during this week's Forum.

U S. Ambassador to the U. N. Richard Holbrooke, who also serves as U.S. President Bill Clinton's special envoy for Cyprus and the Balkans will also be in attendance. He has just completed official visits to Cyprus, Macedonia, Serbia's Kosovo province and Belgrade.

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano will share the stage with Holbrooke on South East Europe Security. Nano earlier this week described his country as being on "the eve of war" with neighboring Yugoslavia and called for NATO intervention to prevent the Kosovo crisis from escalating. Last year, the Forum closed with a debate on security in South East Europe. This year's Forum will open with the discussion on that issue.