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Albania: President Rules Out Round-Table Talks On Macedonia

Albanian President Rexhep Meidani has begun a three-day visit to the Czech Republic -- the first ever official visit to the country by an Albanian head of state. After talks with President Vaclav Havel and lunch with the speaker of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, Meidani visited the Prague headquarters of RFE/RL. Correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that the crisis in Macedonia was the focus of Meidani's comments at a news conference he held at the radio.

Prague, 10 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The president of Albania, Rexhep Meidani, today ruled out organizing a round-table discussion of Albanian political leaders from Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo because of the fear of the potential for misinterpretation.

Last month, Meidani and other Albanian politicians held separate talks with Albanian political leaders from Kosovo and Macedonia in an apparent bid to find common ground in bringing the ethnic Albanian insurgency in northern Macedonia to a speedy end.

Meidani says a round-table discussion would have sent a positive message and promoted normal discussion among political leaders. But he says the news media could have misinterpreted such a gathering as an attempt to promote a vision of a "Greater Albania."

"This was the reason we have been afraid or we have hesitated -- not to be accused that with this roundtable we have planned this 'Great Albania' or this new terminology, the 'Great Kosovo.' But at the same time, we see that they [Albanian politicians in Kosovo and Macedonia] need our advice and need this cooperation. We are trying to do this [on an] individual basis."

At the same time, Meidani said that "military offensives don't resolve the problems in the Balkans."

In mid-March, when Meidani held a series of meetings in Tirana, Kosovar Albanian news media expressed surprise that the talks were held at a time when the leader of Kosovo's electorally strongest political party, Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, was holding talks in Berlin with German leaders.

The pacifist Kosovar leader has not visited Albania for several years, in part because the current socialist government actively supported Hashim Thaci and his Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, in its rebellion against Serbian forces in 1998 and 1999. Rugova previously was closely allied with former Albanian President Sali Berisha, who still heads the Democratic Party and was forced to resign amid a wave of anarchy in 1997.

But Meidani dismissed speculation that Rugova was not welcome in Tirana for talks. Meidani said Prime Minister Ilir Meta had met with Rugova in Pristina and that the Albanian government maintains contact with other members of Rugova's LDK.

"Rugova is welcome in Tirana when he thinks he has the opportunity or desire to come. He will always be welcome."

Meidani says no "normal" person in Albania or in any other region where Albanians live can seriously think of creating or planning a "Greater Albania" or "Greater Kosovo."

He says these ideas are, in his words, "out of reality."

Rather, the Albanian president says the Balkan region, with its 50 million people, needs a free trade zone with common customs and value added taxes -- in his words, a "mini-Schengen."

The head of the Albanian parliament's foreign policy committee, Sabri Godo, who is accompanying Meidani on his visit to the Czech Republic, says the need for an open dialogue between the Macedonian authorities and the country's ethnic Albanian population is "urgent." In Godo's words, "we all want Macedonia to maintain its sovereignty and integrity, but Macedonia will be harmed in the future if it refuses to face reality. There is no other way for Macedonia than coexistence between Macedonians and Albanians."

Godo ruled out a federal solution as "not possible." Some of the rebels in Macedonia have called for transforming Macedonia into a federal system that would give autonomy to predominately Albanian areas. However neither of the two main Albanian parties in Macedonia's parliament advocate a federal solution.