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Balkan Report: February 11, 2000

11 February 2000, Volume 4, Number 12

Sandzak Faces Dilemmas. Ethnic Muslims make up just over 50 percent of the population of Sandzak, which is a larger percentage than their fellow Muslims constitute in neighboring Bosnia. But while the Bosnian Muslims exude a certain self-confidence and use the politically correct term "Bosnjak" for themselves to underscore their self-image as "the authentic Bosnians," the Muslims in Sandzak are anything but confident.

At the core of their problem is the fact that Sandzak is administratively divided between Serbia and Montenegro. The Milosevic regime has repeatedly shown itself deaf to calls from the region for its unity and autonomy. Strategically important Sandzak forms a land bridge connecting Kosova and Bosnia and is well-known to students of the origins of World War I as the Sandzak of Novi Pazar.

Another problem is a division of the Muslims' own making, namely political splits in their own ranks that prevent them from speaking with one voice. As with the Serbian opposition in Belgrade, the differences often have more to do with politicians' egos than with parties' platforms. One of the best-known figures is Rasim Ljajic, who heads the Sandzak Coalition and the regional branch of Alija Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action (SDA). He is generally at odds with Sulejman Ugljanin, who was his predecessor as head of the SDA.

But other problems are not necessarily of the Muslims' own making. During the Bosnian conflict, there were periodic incidents of "ethnic cleansing" of Muslims carried out by paramilitary groups in Sandzak. Some other Muslims, fearing the worst, fled to Bosnia or beyond.

Another issue centers on Sandzak's current political relationship to Serbia and Montenegro. Like the Kosova Albanians, many of the Sandzak Muslims have chosen in recent years to deny the legitimacy of the Milosevic regime by refusing to participate in Belgrade's political life or take part in Serbian elections. Now the main fear among Sandzak's Muslims is that the tensions between Serbia and Montenegro will somehow work to the Muslims' disadvantage, and that matters could come to head very soon.

Several politicians and representatives of NGOs from the region recently participated in a round-table in Belgrade, "Danas" reported on 4 February. Some participants were very pessimistic and see the Muslims' days in Sandzak as numbered. According to this view, the Muslims have no choice in an increasingly ethnically polarized environment but to emigrate to Bosnia. There, however, they have not always received the warmest of welcomes. This is at least in part because many Bosnians regard them as competition in a tight job market and as willing to work for relatively low wages.

Another opinion is that the Montenegrin part of Sandzak should seek to unite with Serbia if Montenegro secedes from the Yugoslav federation. This would restore unity of Sandzak, albeit under Milosevic. Perhaps the speaker--Dzemail Suljevic, who represents the SDA in the Serbian parliament--felt that an attempt to unite all of Sandzak in a reform-minded Montenegro would provoke an armed response from Milosevic. In any event, another speaker--Mujo Mukovic of the Sandzak Coalition--said that his party wants the unity of Sandzak, but holds that it is up to the Muslims of Montenegro to decide their own future.

Several speakers looked beyond the frontiers for a solution to their problems. One argued that the Muslims should involve the international community, just as the Serbian opposition and the Montenegrin government have done. Another speaker went a step further and stressed that the only solution from the Muslim standpoint is to seek an international protectorate for Sandzak.

This is, of course, a tall order. It is likely to meet with either stunned silence or the response that the Muslims should concentrate their efforts on promoting democracy and reform in Serbia and Montenegro. The international community has not been too pleased with the results of its experiences in Bosnia. Its more recent effort in Kosova is faltering for lack of money and personnel. One suspects that any Sandzak Muslims are sadly mistaken if they expect a NATO fire brigade to come to their rescue in the foreseeable future. (Patrick Moore)

What Future For The East-West Corridor? "Koha Jone" ran an article on 6 February saying that the Albanian government has recently focused most of its efforts on building north-south highways, and in practice has stopped the construction on the important east-west Corridor 8. This will link the Adriatic port of Durres with Skopje and Istanbul via Bulgaria.

The east-west route is not only of economic but also of political importance. Development of a modern and reliable east-west highway would strengthen these countries' links with each other and weaken their dependency on other routes. In the case of Macedonia, this would mean reducing the importance of the north-south axis linking it to Serbia and Greece, and hence giving Macedonia new policy options.

"Koha Jone" stressed that the delay comes at a time when the Greek government has launched the construction of a parallel highway, linking the Greek Adriatic port of Igoumenitsa with Thessaloniki and subsequently with Istanbul. Athens has the backing of 450 million euros approved by the EU. Paradoxically, the Greek project is called "Via Egnatia," referring to the ancient road that once linked Thessaloniki with Durres and ran through an area that is now central Albania and the actual route of Corridor 8.

Francesco Divela, one of the organizers of the joint Tirana-Bari international trade fair, warned that the Greek parallel road project will reduce the attractiveness of the Corridor 8 project by connecting the Adriatic with the largest Balkan port, namely Thessaloniki. (One might also add that the Greek project will not do much to increase east-west economic or political options for Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, or Turkey.)

"Koha Jone" also quoted Italian Trade Ministry and U.S. officials as criticizing Tirana for the slow process of the Corridor 8 construction. The daily furthermore said that unnamed officials of the Albanian Transport Ministry's department of road construction indirectly admitted that they are not pursuing the Corridor 8 project very vigorously. The officials said: "We do not implement a policy of [planning] roads or corridors, but we deal with the construction of road segments that we are charged with building."

But in practice, most recent contracts for the construction of such segments were part of the major new north-south highway, eventually linking Montenegro with Greece. In his last days in office last November, outgoing Transportation Minister Gaqo Apostoli signed three contracts for that stretch with an overall value of $50 million.

"Koha Jone" argues that Albania has given priority to developing the north-south connection to economically strong Greece rather than to much poorer Macedonia. This puts Albania in a difficult position vis-a-vis its two EU neighbors. Italy is interested in developing markets to the east through Corridor 8, and intends to invest in the upgrading of the port in Durres. Greece at the same time is afraid to lose some of the turnover at the Thessaloniki port through the construction of Corridor 8. Greece instead promotes the construction of the north-south highway. As for Albania, Prime Minister Ilir Meta maintains that the government considers both highways to be of equal importance.

So far, the construction of Corridor 8 has only begun between Tirana and Durres--where Italy sponsored the construction of a highway with $17 million--and between Rrogozhina and Elbasan, where currently a Turkish company is building a part of the future highway. For the section between Elbasan and Librazhd, Albania has so far only received financial pledges from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development but has signed no contracts. For the stretch between Librazhd and Qukes, Albania has signed a $15 million contract with the Macedonian company Mavropi, but the construction had to be interrupted because of archeological discoveries along the ancient Via Egnatia.

The last part of the road--between Qukes and Qafe Thane--will be built with support from Kuwait, but the government has set no date yet for starting construction.

Finally, there appears to be a deadlock over the beginning of the construction between Durres and Rrogozhina. A Greek company won the tender and was supposed to begin by 19 January 2000. Nonetheless, the work has not begun, and the company is accusing the Albanian government of causing the delays by failing to nationalize the property on which the road will be built. The Agricultural Ministry, which is responsible for such moves, has done nothing.

In addition, the World Bank has designed a project for the reconstruction of existing roads between the east, west and north of the country. The bank has offered $66 million, but the government has so far only made use of $7.7 million. The entire project provides for the construction of 90 kilometers of roads, 60 km of which would belong to Corridor 8, while another 30 km are part of the north-south stretch, linking Fushe Kruja with Lezha.

Last but not least, "Koha Jone" also reports that some of the roadwork on the north-south stretch has been marred by "irregularities" and the use of shoddy construction materials.

In short, the day that Albania will have a serious road network linking it both north and south, and east and west--with all the political and economic advantages that implies--is still a long way off. (Fabian Schmidt)

Surprise! Albanian Police Chief Reports Fall In Crime Rate. Albania's General Director Police Veli Myftari told "Koha Jone" of 6 February that the crime rate has declined over recent months. Myftari stressed, however, that police officers are underpaid, and warned that "one can not fight organized crime with police who have empty pockets." The average monthly salary of a policeman is less than $100. Myftari added, however, that he expects the government to approve an increase in salaries soon.

According to the figures presented by Myftari, the police registered 280 crimes in January 2000, out of which 251 cases, or 89 percent, were solved. By contrast, in January 1999 the police registered 311 crimes. Ten people were killed in January 2000, compared with 40 in December 1999. Only two of these crimes have been solved so far, however. In any event, it remains to be seen whether the crime rate will continue to drop.

Twenty people were injured in crime-related incidents last month, but police cleared up 80 percent of these cases. There were also five rapes. Out of 85 burglaries, police were able to solve 64, or 75 percent. The number of car thefts has considerably declined. Throughout Albania, only nine cars were stolen in January, and police managed to find six of them.

Myftari also said that police launched special operations to collect arms in Tirana, Shkodra, Berat, Elbasan, Dibra, Korca, Librazhd, and other cities.

In these raids police found hundreds of arms, including hand grenades, cartridges, and other types of explosives. Myftari added that he plans to create a police task force, specializing in the collection of arms. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "This kind of violence can go one of two ways: either it's a chance for change, with the crabs killing each other inside a pot, or it creates more instability and an excuse for a harsher crackdown. Either way, it's another element of concern and a sign that things in the Balkans remain chaotic and uncontrollable." -- Unnamed Western diplomat in Belgrade, quoted by Reuters on 8 February on the killing of Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 February 2000).

"It is now virtually guaranteed that any political change in Yugoslavia will be brutal and bloody. There are too many scores to settle." -- British Balkan expert Jonathan Eyal.

"Terrorism surfaced in Yugoslavia instigated by a certain part of the international community and organized by ethnic Albanian separatists [in Kosova]...and foreign mercenaries.... The main agents of world terrorism--the hegemonist U.S and NATO, the CIA and other related intelligence agencies--seek revenge for their military and moral defeat in Yugoslavia [in the 1999 conflict in Kosova] through organizing mercenaries for individual acts of terror and crime." -- Statement issued on the Bulatovic killing by Mira Markovic's United Yugoslav Left (JUL) in Belgrade on 8 February.