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Balkans: Regional Coordination, Security Tops Agenda At Tirana Summit

The Balkan states -- hoping to accelerate integration into Euro-Atlantic structures -- are pursuing closer regional coordination. In Tirana this week, the heads of states and governments of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) held their fifth meeting, concluding that the Balkans' violent past can be overcome by fostering economic ties.

Tirana, 29 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The past weighed heavily on the minds of the Balkan leaders who gathered in the Albanian capital, Tirana, this week for a meeting of the South-East European Cooperation Process, known as SEECP.

A looming deadline of 31 March, set by the U.S. for Yugoslavia to demonstrate greater compliance with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, spurred Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic to reaffirm his government's intention to comply.

Pesic said his administration is committed to meeting the deadline and that, as a UN member, Yugoslavia respects all of the organizations and associations set up by the UN Security Council.

"The international tribunal in The Hague has been established by the Security Council of the UN and, therefore, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has an obligation to cooperate with that institution. That orientation and policy of ours we have manifested in the past and in the period to come we will again express this form of cooperation by respecting the international tribunal for war crimes. So we are committed to cooperation, and we will cooperate."

As an observer at the Tirana summit -- Zagreb doesn't consider itself a Balkan state -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic said the past should be left to historians, while individuals should be held accountable for the crimes committed in the wars of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. As Mesic put it, "The courtroom of the tribunal in The Hague -- and not our states -- is the proper place for criminals to enjoy 'special protection.'"

The UN secretary-general's special envoy in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, represented the UN co-administered, NATO-occupied province, rather than recently elected Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova. Kosovo has no sovereignty and is not a member of SEECP.

Steiner told the Balkan leaders about his "wish to create a society in Kosovo that exports stability rather than being perceived as exporting instability and crime," so that foreign interventions and imposed administration become a thing of the past. "No one wants legions of blue helmets or NATO peacekeepers as a permanent part of the scenery in the Balkans. All of us in the international community are working on our demise, our own exit strategy."

As Steiner put it, "The only realistic exit strategy is an entry strategy -- a strategy to enter the European structures and institutions."

Many of the participants called for a greater emphasis on resolving problems locally, using local resources, rather than always relying on the international community.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov stressed in his speech that "we, the countries of the region, are the ones who should provide the know-how on what can and what must be done for the Balkans. We are the ones that bear responsibility for solving our own problems."

Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Arta Dade read the meeting's final declaration: "We have expressed our concern for the plight of refugees and displaced persons in the region. We reiterated our commitment that all the necessary steps for their return home, in compliance with the relevant international agreements and [UN Security Council] resolutions, should be taken. We have strongly condemned acts of vandalism against cultural monuments and religious sites in the region and reaffirm our commitment to jointly work for their preservation and restoration. The richness of the region's cultural heritage lies also in its diversity. We are convinced that the overall economic growth and prosperity in the SEECP region is impossible without speedy action for rehabilitation, construction and interconnection of the regional infrastructure. A developed transport, energy, telecommunications and water infrastructure is essential to the free movement of persons and trade, as well as to the enhancement of social cohesion and integration."

Yugoslav Prime Minister Pesic, who will preside over the initiative during the coming 12 months, says specific facets will be developed, including the promotion of free trade, energy, transport, and telecommunications issues and the fight against organized crime.

Turkey's representatives asked the member countries to adopt a uniform approach to identifying terrorists and bringing them to justice. As Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem put it, "In order to be effective, the fight against terrorism has to be comprehensive and deal with all terrorist centers."

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said extremist groups are threatening peace and stability throughout the region and that "these forces must be clearly condemned and decisively eliminated by all."

Albanian President Rexhep Meidani called on the Balkan states to redefine the concept of security: "[My idea is] the creation of a unique economic space, as well as a redefinition of the concept of security, in order not to identify it only with territorial security for confronting foreign invasions or cross-border threats, or simply as a defense of national interests in foreign policy, [but] also to give greater emphasis to the human dimension, reaffirming dignity and life."

All the Balkan leaders stressed as their chief objective Euro-Atlantic integration.