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Balkan Report: April 10, 2001

10 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 26

MACEDONIA: ARRESTS AND ACCUSATIONS. The revolt in Macedonia's northern region seems to be over, at least for the moment. The Macedonian army and police forces have driven out the "terrorists" from the hills around Tetovo, prompting many of the fighters to flee the country. Some of them, however, did not manage to cross the border into neighboring Kosova.

In an interview with the biweekly magazine "Forum," Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska said that the security situation is now under control. The clearing of the region of the fighters is nonetheless still under way. "There is information that a small number of them remain on Macedonian territory. Some of them changed their clothes to civilian ones as they fled. They are now hiding in some of the villages close to Tetovo," Dimovska said.

The Skopje dailies "Vest" and "Dnevnik" reported on 7 April that police arrested 30 Albanians in the villages of Poroj and Dzebciste in the Tetovo region. While some of them were released because of lack of evidence, 18 were held in detention because police found a number of automatic weapons, ammunition, and explosives in their possession.

During the arrests, there were short exchanges of fire between the guerrillas and the police, "Dnevnik" reported. While the newspapers stated that no policemen were wounded, it is not clear whether there were casualties among the Albanians.

It is not clear how many Albanians have been arrested since the outbreak of violence earlier this year, but the number seems to be rising every day. Emin Azemi, the publisher of the Albanian-language daily "Fakti," already complained about the large number of arrests last week (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 April 2001).

After the latest arrests, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) said that "according to our information, a number of houses have been demolished and a large number of young people have been arrested for being members of the armed formations. The repression and the government's legal measures are [counter-productive], especially at time when a Macedonian-Albanian dialogue should start." The Skopje daily "Nova Makedonija" on 7 April quoted the spokesman as saying that police units in close co-operation with Tetovo Mayor Omer Shaban killed a young Albanian from the village of Selce, the former guerilla headquarters.

PPD leader Muhamed Halili protested those moves and officially suspended relations with the government until the authorities decide on a less offensive way of dealing with the real or supposed fighters. According to Halili, the party's communication with the government and with President Boris Trajkovski will remain in limbo until the government accepts that political dialogue is more productive than police action against innocent citizens.

Halili therefore called for an "educational approach" to integrate young Albanians into Macedonian society as productive members. The fact that young Albanians had taken to the hills is for Halili a sign that Macedonian state institutions are wanting because they are unable to provide the younger generation with equal opportunities.

Criticism also came from the other big Albanian party in Macedonia, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), which is a member of the ruling coalition. Sensing the danger of a new escalation of violence, party leader Arben Xhaferi said in an interview with the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR): "If the Macedonian authorities are cruel and tough during their offensives, that might well cause other Albanians to join the UCK [National Liberation Army]."

As one step toward easing the ethnic tensions between Albanians and Macedonians, Xhaferi stated: "We suggest democratizing the crisis, demilitarizing society, and giving amnesty to everyone who was involved in this crisis." Xhaferi dismissed Trajkovski's round-table talks as "coffee-table talks" without democratic legitimacy.

Because he advocates changes in the constitution, Xhaferi is highly suspect in the eyes of the Macedonian nationalist press inside and outside the Balkan republic. The weekly "Makedonija europe", published in Duesseldorf, wrote in its latest issue that one cannot see any difference between Xhaferi and other Albanian politicians, on the one hand, and the extremists who threatened the country for 40 days, on the other.

That newspaper -- which is read mostly by Macedonian emigrants and is notorious for its "hate speech" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 March 2001) -- also cited an article originally published in the Skopje daily "Makedonija denes." "The political leader of the terrorists is no one else but Arben Xhaferi. This man now shows his real face. He knows that the terrorists are not gone but waits to see what will happen during the talks. Besides, he knows where they are if they are still in the country... This [demonstrates] at least connivance [between him and the UCK]."

Xhaferi also faces accusations of having openly called for war in Macedonia. The small opposition Movement for All-Macedonian Action (MAAK-konzervativna) plans to sue him for his statement that if there are no talks on the future of Macedonia, there will be war in Macedonia.

It is not clear whether the government will eventually adopt the Albanian parties' proposal for a "soft approach" to the UCK -- amnesty and talks. To take such a bold and controversial step, the government will need broad-based backing. That means it will need the support of at least the largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).

But even for an "optimist in panic" -- as Xhaferi called himself in the IWPR interview -- it is hard to imagine such a change of heart among Macedonian politicians at the moment. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ALBANIAN OPPOSITION, OSCE DISCUSS ELECTION PROCESS. Ridvan Bode, who is the Democratic Party's (PD) general secretary, and Fatmir Mediu, the chairman of the Republican Party (PR), met with OSCE representatives on 6 April to discuss safeguards for the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are due in June. The two conservative officials agreed to participate in the elections and also welcomed the planned OSCE election monitoring.

Both PD and PR officials previously claimed that electoral lists are faulty and suggested that the governing Socialists may try to rig the elections. The opposition politicians claim that the Socialists broke the 28 February agreement with the opposition to check voters' lists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 April 2000). They demanded that the OSCE insist on a fresh review of the lists.

Just two days earlier, the local PD chairman in Tirana, Vili Minarolli, accused OSCE Head of Mission Gert Ahrens of undermining the opposition-government agreement by opposing the agreed reexamination of the lists. (Fabian Schmidt)

DISPUTE OVER ALBANIAN HYDROELECTRIC POWER PLANT. Albanian environmental organizations issued a statement last week, warning of environmental risks posed by a planned hydroelectric power plant at Bushat in the north, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 8 April.

Local authorities in Shkodra urged environmental groups, energy specialists, and officials to come and examine the project. The Shkodra authorities expressed concerns about an apparent lack of transparency in issuing a building permit. According to local officials, the central government and the Albanian Electricity Company KESH failed to respect an international convention on environmental information, which Albania has signed. The convention obliges the government to consult with local residents over questions about the environmental impact of construction projects.

Meanwhile on 5 April, parliament postponed a vote approving the construction of the power plant. China's Export-Import Bank has pledged a loan of $149 million for the plant. If parliament approves the deal, China's water and electricity company has promised to complete the project within four years. The company hopes to start construction by the end of April.

If this happens, the power plant will become Albania's third largest, with a capacity of 84 mW. The expected annual average production of electricity will reach 350 million kWh. Albania is completely dependent on hydroelectric power and suffers severe power shortages during the summer and fall every year, following the dry season. (Fabian Schmidt)

ITALIAN POLICE SEIZE BRINDISI-VLORA PASSENGER FERRY. Italy's customs police have seized the passenger ferry Europa Prima, which plies the Brindisi-Vlora route, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 7 April. Officials suspect that the real owners of the ship are members of a notorious cigarette-smuggling family from Brindisi. The ship is nonetheless registered to an owner from the Marshall Islands. (Fabian Schmidt)

FOREIGN INVESTMENTS ON THE RISE IN ALBANIA. Foreign direct investment in Albania more than tripled in 2000 compared to 1999, an official statement by the Bank of Albania (BeSH) said on 6 April. The increase was largely due to the privatization of the previous monopoly-holder for mobile phones, Albanian Mobile Communication (AMC). The total investments in 2000 amounted to $143 million, compared to $43 million in 1999. The Greek company CosmOTE -- which won the tender for AMC -- invested a total of $85.6 million.

International Monetary Fund representative Volker Treichel said that real foreign investments may have been even higher than the official estimate. He told the "Albanian Daily News" that the amount announced by the Bank of Albania "is the minimum figure, because we don't have complete data on how much money was invested in the private sector." Most business in Albania is done by cash, since small and medium-sized businesses often do not use banks for financial transactions.

The country is heavily dependent on remittances from hundreds of thousands of Albanians who have emigrated in search of a better standard of living. Remittances from migrant workers grew by 46 percent to $531 million in 2000, according to estimates of the BeSH. Albanian GDP growth was 7.3 percent in 2000, the same as in 1999. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The huge marginalization of Albanians is the source of frustration in our society." -- Macedonia's Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) leader Arben Xhaferi. Quoted in the "Financial Times" on 6 April.

"[I would like to see] only one simple thing -- to correct the concept of the state which is incompatible with the multiethnic reality. We need a new concept, a new European concept of the state, which will be in harmony with reality. [We need a] new constitution, [and] to change some [elements] within the constitution, because we must put down our Balkan baggage and start changing all standards and values." -- Xhaferi at the EU Stabilization and Association Agreement signing In Luxembourg on 9 April. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"The fact that we have become an associate member of the European Union today, believe me, is a great challenge for our country, and I assure you that we will do our best in the future to show serious results." -- Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, at the same ceremony.

"We welcome you to the extended European family." -- Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, at the same ceremony.

"There is a very high expectation abroad that we come to grips with our war crimes past. [But a quick extradition of Milosevic] is not something we're really focused on at the moment." -- Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, to AP in Belgrade on 6 April.