October 29, 2004
Chemical Cache to Be Destroyed with U.S. Funds
Washington, D.C. - The Bush administration will provide $20 million to pay for the destruction of 16 tons of material for chemical weapons stockpiled in Albania. The move marks the first time the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative, a U.S. non-proliferation program, will be applied in a country outside the former Soviet Union, where more than 6,000 nuclear warheads and hundreds of other weapons have been destroyed at a cost of $5 billion. The Albanian project is expected to be completed by 2007.
The presence of chemicals in Albania, a legacy of the country's former communist regime, which was overthrown in 1990, is a violation of the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention outlawing the production, stockpiling, and use of such weapons, ratified by Albania in 1994.
The U.S. Defense Department, which is in charge of the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative, plans to send a team to Albania to lay the groundwork for the destruction of the chemicals. The United States has already assisted Albania in installing fences and surveillance equipment to protect the site of the chemical cache.
July 2, 2004
Cooperation with Greece on Olympic Security Measures
Washington, D.C. - The Albanian Public Order Ministry announced that 11,000 Albanian police would be involved in security measures undertaken in cooperation with Greece to ensure the safety of the Olympics in Athens. Some 6,000 police will be deployed at checkpoints along the border with Greece, while 5,000 will be carrying out security-related activities within Albania. Tirana recently created a special task force with Athens to handle security issues.
Albania has also upgraded security systems at two border points with Greece through the installation of surveillance cameras, scanners, and other electronic equipment that will enable police to immediately exchange information between the border posts and police headquarters in both Tirana and Athens. Tirana's five-year project to develop more stringent border security began in 2002 using $15.6 million in funding from the European Union and the United States. Similar security measures have been implemented at Tirana's airport and the country's two main ports of Durres and Vlore.
April 23, 2004
Tirana Considers Increasing Military Force in Iraq
Washington, D.C. - Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano stated that Albania was considering increasing its military contingent in Iraq, in view of Spain's decision to pull its 1,300 troops out of the country. Albanian Foreign Minister Kastriot Islami proposed the possible expansion of the Albanian force on April 16 in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, stating that Tirana was "working to set the practical details to achieve" the troop expansion.
Although no troop figure has been officially proposed, the Albanian Defense Ministry suggested that the number could be increased from the 71 soldiers currently deployed to 200. Albania's troops are serving in Mosul in northern Iraq, under U.S. command. Their primary role is to guard key facilities, such as the city's airport, and set up and patrol checkpoints.
One Albanian soldier has been killed in Iraq. Albania currently has 22 troops in Afghanistan.
February 13, 2004
Opposition Demonstrations Threaten Political Stability
Washington, D.C. - As Albania continued to negotiate a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, a resurgence of violent demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Fatos Nano, instigated by the opposition leader, raised the prospect that the period of political stability that has prevailed since 2002 could be compromised, hampering reforms needed to promote the country's integration into the EU.
Culminating two days of protests called by former president and opposition Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha, some 2,000 demonstrators attacked Nano's office on February 8 as they called for the prime minister's resignation over increases in power and telephone charges they claimed were further evidence of his failure to follow through on promises to improve the standard of living. The protestors were prevented from entering the office by police. Berisha called on the supporters of his party to stage a February 20 demonstration against the policies of the Nano administration.
The European Union urged Albania's politicians not to encourage any more violent protests that threatened to destabilize the government, noting that the country can move toward EU membership only through "peaceful reform and development." The EU said it supported the increased utility charges, stating that the government could not continue to offer low-priced, subsidized utility services. It has urged the country to accelerate efforts to combat organized crime and corruption and to advance more quickly toward market reform. Nano has been praised for the privatization of state-owned companies and for his efforts toward EU integration.
Nano has been prime minister since July 2002, following five years of short-lived governments and political bickering between Berisha and the leadership of the ruling Socialist Party. With the July 2002 election of Alfred Moisiu to the position of president, as a consensus candidate of both the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, the two parties re-engaged in political dialogue, launching a period of political stability that has made significant progress possible in democratic and economic reforms, rule of law initiatives, and the development of Albania's relations with neighboring countries and the United States.
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an average per capita income of $1,000. The official unemployment rate is 16 percent, and 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Two-thirds of all workers are employed in the agricultural sector.
August 8, 2003
Deputy Prime Minister to Be Acting Foreign Minister Until September
Washington, D.C. - Following the Albanian parliament's late July rejection of Prime Minister Fatos Nano's nomination of former deputy defense minister Marko Bello as foreign minister, Deputy Prime Minister Luan Hajdaraga will serve as Acting Foreign Minister until parliament reconvenes in September.
The parliamentary vote on Bello's candidacy as a replacement for Ilir Meta, who resigned as foreign minister and deputy prime minister over a dispute with Nano, took place immediately before lawmakers recessed for the summer. Nano, who has not yet named a new candidate for the post, stated that he did not want to call a special session of parliament to handle the matter during the summer recess.
Parliament approved the candidacy of Ermelinda Meksi, a former minister of economy, as well as economic cooperation and trade, for the positions of Minister of State for European Integration and Deputy Prime Minister. Meksi took the place of Sokol Nako, who resigned in solidarity with Meta. (See Country Updates, Albania, "Foreign Minister Resigns in Intra-Party Dispute," July 28, 2003.)
July 28, 2003
Foreign Minister Resigns in Intra-Party Dispute
Washington, D.C. - Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned from his post, capping his long-running dispute with Prime Minister Fatos Nano that could jeopardize the prospects for a strong showing by the ruling Socialist Party in the municipal elections to be held on October 12. Meta also withdrew from the Socialist Party.
The elections are seen as a major test for the Socialists, who have governed the country since June 1997 and overwhelmingly won the last municipal elections in October 2000, including a victory in the mayoral race in Tirana, the capital, for the first time since the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s.
Minister of State for European Integration Sokol Nako, responsible for the country's efforts to prepare for EU membership, also resigned from his post in support of Meta. The position is critical to current negotiations between Tirana and the European Union for concluding a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the bloc and the country's key goal of joining the EU.
Marko Bello, a former deputy defense minister, is replacing Meta as foreign minister. Ermelinda Meksi, a former minister of economy, as well as economic cooperation and trade, is taking over the European integration ministry and will also serve as deputy prime minister.
In what is viewed as a power struggle within the Socialist Party's leadership, Meta accused Nano of "governing falseness and hypocrisy" and an attempt to put the foreign ministry under his "absolute personal control," while Nano blamed Meta for being "slow and incapable" in Albania's diplomacy with European countries. Sokol Nako asserted that it was impossible, under these circumstances, to continue Albania's "dialogue with international partners."
In early July, the Socialist Party called a truce in the Nano-Meta rivalry, which centers on different views on how to attain Albania's chief goals of membership in NATO and the European Union, until after the local elections in the fall. Nano has led the party since 1991. Meta was elected prime minister twice, in 1999 and 2001.
July 28, 2003
North Atlantic Council Discusses Tirana's NATO Aspirations
Washington, D.C. - NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and the permanent representatives of the 19 nations of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's senior decision-making body, held discussions in Tirana on Albania's goal of joining NATO.
The Council stated that Albania remained under consideration for NATO membership, but the country would have to move forward on key reforms, including those in non-military areas such as the reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption and organized crime.
It praised Albania's participation in the early-July meeting of the heads of military intelligence and counter-intelligence services of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia in Ohrid, Macedonia, under the U.S.-Adriatic Partnership Charter signed in May by Washington and the three countries to promote their entry into NATO. Participants discussed stepping up regional cooperation against terrorism and trafficking in weapons, drugs, and humans. The Council also commended Albania's program for reintegrating discharged military personnel into civilian life.
Albania, which sent 75 soldiers to Iraq to support coalition peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts, is a member of NATO's Membership Action Plan, established in 1999 to help countries prepare for entry into the alliance.
The allocation of $53.4 million to Albania this year by the European Union, in its Annual Program for Albania, targets economic development and the fight against crime as the primary EU priorities.
July 03, 2003
Key Ethnic Albanian Guerrilla Arrested
Washington, D.C. - Albanian police arrested the suspected political leader of the Albanian National Army (ANA) and three other members of the group on charges of inciting "nationalistic hatred" upon their arrival in the country from Macedonia.
Gafur Adili, believed to be the political leader of the group, which has claimed responsibility for attacks in Macedonia, Kosovo, and south Serbia's Presevo Valley, was placed on an economic blacklist in 2002 by the United States, which accused him of promoting instability in the Balkans. The U.N. mission in Kosovo has branded the group a terrorist organization.
The ANA's goal is to create a Greater Albania in the Balkans by uniting regions with ethnic Albanian majorities.
June 13, 2003
Rumsfeld Thanks Albania for Support for U.S. Policy
Washington, D.C. - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Albania to thank the government for its support for Washington's policies in the global war on terrorism and promised to help the country gain membership in NATO through U.S. assistance in high-level training and exercises.
Rumsfeld expressed appreciation for Tirana's decision to send troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq and for being one of the former communist countries, known as the Vilnius 10, whose leaders signed a letter in February backing the U.S. stance on Iraq, when the Bush administration was seeking international support for a possible invasion.
In addition, he noted that Albania had signed a bilateral Article 98 Agreement with the U.S., through which it has pledged not to turn over Americans to the International Criminal Court.
Defense Minister Panteli Majko has stated publicly that Albania is willing to host a permanent U.S. base, at a time when the Pentagon is considering repositioning forces from Germany to eastern Europe. Rumsfeld said that he did not discuss this particular issue with Majko during his visit.
During the Iraq war, Albania opened its airspace, land routes, and territorial waters to the U.S.-led coalition. Although access to the country's military bases was also made available, Washington placed no troops there as it did during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
Majko said that an undisclosed number of Americans were working in Albania's Defense Ministry, but he would not disclose the nature of the exercises that are being conducted by Albanian and U.S. forces.
Seventy Albanian troops are serving as peacekeepers in the Iraqi city of Mosul, while about 30 are part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
May 9, 2003
Americans in Albania Excluded from Prosecution by International Criminal Court
Washington, D.C. - Powell also signed an agreement with the Albanian government that exempts Americans in the country from possible war crimes prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, placing Albania, an EU aspirant, at odds with the 15 EU members, which are among the 139 signatories to the ICC's founding treaty.
Albania was the 32nd country to conclude a bilateral agreement with Washington protecting U.S. citizens, particularly those taking part in peacekeeping activities, from extradition to the court on grounds that they could be exposed to politically motivated prosecution. Romania, an EU candidate, is the only other European nation that has signed such an agreement with the United States.
May 9, 2003
U.S. Promotes NATO Aspirations of Albania, Croatia, Macedonia
Washington, D.C. - Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Tirana to sign a "U.S.-Adriatic Partnership Charter" with the foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia aimed at promoting the entry of these countries into NATO.
The Charter was proposed by the Albanian, Croatian, and Macedonian presidents to President Bush at the NATO Prague Summit in November 2002 and was jointly drafted by the three countries.
The document commits these countries, which were left out of the next wave of NATO enlargement, to individually and cooperatively achieve political and economic reforms that will facilitate their integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Recognizing that they are on a path to alliance membership, the Charter also provides for bilateral meetings at least twice a year between each of the countries and the United States, which will assist in the achievement of the reforms, in order to review progress toward meeting the objectives outlined in the document.
Powell also thanked Albanian leaders for supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Albania opened its air and naval bases to coalition forces during the war and sent 70 peacekeepers to Baghdad in mid-April.
April 11, 2003
Peacekeeping Unit to Deploy in Iraq
Washington, D.C. - The Albanian military has sent five of its soldiers to Kuwait to begin preparations for the arrival of a 70-member Albanian military unit to be deployed in Iraq for post-war peacekeeping activities. The unit will operate under U.S. command.
The Albanian parliament voted in March to open Albania's airspace, bases, and ports to coalition forces in conjunction with the war in Iraq. In addition, an executive order authorized the deployment of the unit to the Gulf region in support of peacekeeping operations.
February 7, 2003
Negotiations Launched for EU Stabilization and Association Agreement
Washington, D.C. - European Commission President Romano Prodion a visit to Tirana, officially launched negotiations between the European Union and Albania for a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), considered a first step toward EU membership.
The first round of talks is scheduled for February 13. It has taken Albania two years to meet the conditions set by the EU for starting SAA negotiations.
The Stabilization and Association process, which has already resulted in the conclusion of SAAs with Croatia and F.Y.R. Macedonia, is the cornerstone of the EU's policy in the Balkans, which is aimed at promoting political and economic stability in the region while also facilitating preparations for potential EU accession negotiations.
Under the SAA, some of the reforms Albania has agreed to implement are respect for human rights, establishment of a fully democratic system based on the rule of law, steps toward completing a market economy, the strengthening of the judiciary and enhanced law enforcement, improved border management, and measures to fight organized crime, fraud, and corruption.
For a four-year period beginning in 2001, the European Commission has allocated $196.7 million to Albania under its Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development, and Stabilization (CARDS) program, which provides financial aid to support the participation of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, F.Y.R. Macedonia, and Yugoslavia in the Stabilization and Association process.
In talks with Prime Minister Fatos Nano, President Alfred Moisiu, Foreign Minister Ilir Meta, and opposition leader Sali Berisha, Prodi urged the Albanians to accelerate the country's reform program, underscoring the Commission's support for this effort.
In an address to the Albanian parliament, Prodi stated that cooperation in the fight against organized crime, trafficking in drugs and human beings, and money laundering, which are acute problems in Albania, is a top priority for the EU, involving Europe-wide cooperation concerning police and judicial matters, border controls, and migration. Cigarette smuggling and other illegal activities, including trafficking in drugs and illegal immigrants, is believed to account for about 50 percent of the Albanian economy.
November 1, 2002
Negotiations for EU Stabilization and Association Agreement to Begin
Washington, D.C. - The European Council has authorized the European Commission to open negotiations for the conclusion of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Albania, a first step toward preparations for EU membership eligibility.
Negotiations with Albania are expected to begin by the end of the year. SAAs have already been concluded with F.Y.R. Macedonia and Croatia.
In May 1999, the European Commission proposed the creation of a Stabilization and Association process for these three countries as well as Bosnia and Yugoslavia to help them achieve political and economic reforms and enable them to integrate more closely into European Union structures. The SAA also includes the promotion of closer trade relations between these countries and the EU.
Among the reforms the EU will require Albania to implement as part of the agreement will be consolidating the independence of the judiciary, adopting further measures to fight organized crime, securing a stable supply of energy, and boosting domestic investment and the creation of jobs.
July 29, 2002
Albanian Forces Join Afghanistan Peacekeeping Force
Washington, D.C. - About 30 Albanian special commando troops will join the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in August and will work directly under the 1,400-member Turkish contingent.
The troops will undergo a 10-day training course in Turkey in early August in preparation for deployment in the 5,000-member peacekeeping force. Turkey took over the command of ISAF from Britain in June.
A platoon-size Albanian attachment of about 40 soldiers is serving under German forces in the SFOR peacekeeping force in Bosnia. In addition, Albania is a participant in the Southeastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG), a seven-nation peacekeeping brigade, currently based in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which also includes the participation of Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey.
Following the events of September 11, Albania offered the United States the use of Albanian troops and access to Albanian airspace, ports, and bases in conjunction with the war against terrorism.
Communist-Era Arsenal Scrapped on Road to NATO
Washington, D.C. - Under the supervision and sponsorship of the United States Department of Defense, the Albanian government has embarked on a 10-year program to radically modernize the country's weaponry and reduce the size of its 30,000 armed forces to 18,000 as major steps toward meeting guidelines for NATO interoperability. The U.S. is providing financial assistance for the program, which is also aimed at improving the quality of life of Albanian military personnel.
The Albanian government is seeking buyers for obsolete communist-era surplus military equipment dating from the 1950s and 1960s, including Chinese tanks and helicopters, Russian MiG fighters and submarines, artillery, light weapons, and ammunition. In the absence of buyers, possibly movie studios or collectors, the equipment will be scrapped.
Albania has already destroyed 1.6 million land mines and explosives under the supervision of the United Nations. In addition, 116,000 light and small illegally held weapons have been destroyed in a joint project conducted by the U.S., Germany, and Norway under U.N. auspices.
Saudi Businessman in Tirana Found Linked to Al Qaeda
Washington, D.C. - Albanian authorities seized control of a 15-storyconstruction project in Tirana after the government determined that it was being used to launder financial activities for the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The Finance Ministry charged Yassin Kadia Saudi construction magnate who is the co-owner of the project, with laundering about $10 million in Albania for Al Qaeda. The government said Kadi's bank accounts in the country would be frozen.
The Saudi's whereabouts were unknown and Albanian officials said he could have left Albania before the government's actions took place. He is listed on the United States government's October 2001 list of individuals and organizations suspected of having terrorist links.
The Albanian government also said that several foreign companies and non-governmental organizations were being investigated for possible illegal operations within the country.
Intra-Party Fighting, Energy Crunch Cause Government Turnover
Washington, D.C. - A three-month power struggle within the ruling Socialist Party led to the resignation of Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta and the appointment of the country's defense minister, Panteli Majko, to the position. Majko previously served as prime minister in 1998 and 1999.
Meta, who became head of government in 1999, stated that a dispute with Fatos Nano, the leader of the Socialist Party, had hampered his government's efforts to implement vital reforms and deal with the country's economic problems, including the consequences of a severe energy shortage. The political turmoil within the ruling party has also discouraged badly needed foreign investment in the country.
Nano, who served as prime minister twice, accused the Meta government of corruption and abuse of power, demanding that the cabinet be restructured. When four ministers resigned in an attempt to resolve the crisis, parliamentarians loyal to Nano blocked efforts to replace them. Meta accused Nano of fomenting the government crisis because of Meta's refusal to support him as a candidate for Albania's presidency when the parliament elects a new head of state in July.
Fearing continuing paralysis of crucial reforms due to the power feud in the ruling party, the IMF postponed approval of a three-year program of loans worth$30 million for Albania. The World Bank also warned that $70 million allocated for development projects in the country could be put on hold if the projects did not move forward as planned.
Nano also exploited Albania's severe energy crisis by blaming Meta publicly for the crisis. Over the last year, Albanians have endured significant power cuts, almost daily, as five aging hydroelectric power plants, which generate about 95percent of the country's electricity, have failed to keep up with demand.
The crisis has been caused by a combination of insufficient investment in the power industry to keep up with rising demand, a two-year-old drought that has depleted the supply of water used by the plants, and the widespread failure of businesses and consumers to pay their electricity bills, resulting in reduced revenues to upgrade the power grid. The energy shortage has caused significant interruptions in industrial production, but small businesses have been the worst hit. Uncertainty over future power supplies poses a threat to economic development and foreign investment.
During Meta's two years in office, the economy grew by over 7 percent a year, the highest rate in the Balkans, with inflation standing at 3.5 percent in 2001.
Greek Support for Military Cooperation, Anti-Crime Efforts
Washington, D.C. - On his first state visit abroad after assuming office in November, Greek Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou met with his Albanian counterpart Pandeli Majko in Tirana for discussions on regional security matters, illegal immigration, and bilateral cooperation in the defense sector.
The ministers signed an agreement that provides Greek economic aid for the modernization of Albania's military in the form of technical support, hardware transfer, and base construction.
The Greek government has expressed an interest in contributing to the reconstruction of a naval base in the Adriatic port of Durres to bolster Albania's efforts to fight illegal immigration and the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and human beings.
Papantoniou visited a 100-member Greek military contingent stationed at an Italian-led NATO ground facility in Durres, which provides logistical support for NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. The facility is also staffed by 1,100 Italians, 40 Turks, and small troop contingents from other NATO countries.
He also visited a military hospital in the southern Albanian town of Gjirokaster, which was built by Greek armed forces with $2.6 million donated by the Greek defense ministry to serve both Albanian army personnel and Albanian civilians. The hospital, to be operational soon, will be staffed by both Greeks and Albanians. Greece has also agreed to treat up to 30 Albanian military personnel at Greek military hospitals annually.
The Greek minister said that Athens would encourage private Greek investors to continue investing in the Albanian market.
Government Pledges Solidarity with West in Anti-Terrorism Fight
Washington, D.C. - Prime Minister Ilir Meta expressed the Albanian government's strong condemnation of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as Tirana's solidarity with the American people and government.
In a statement on behalf of the Albanian government, Meta affirmed Albania's determination to participate with the United States and other Western democracies in an alliance to fight international terrorism.
He added that the government in Tirana was committed to increasing its efforts to make the borders of the country impenetrable to terrorist activity, as it continued to work toward strengthening regional and European security.
In a letter to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the Albanian parliament, Namik Dokle, said Albania would strongly support the actions to be undertaken by the U.S. government to put an end to terrorism. President Rexhep Meidani asserted that Albania would back the U.S. in fighting terrorism head-on.
Officials Claim Bin Laden Bases, Cells Excised
Washington, D.C. - Minister of Public Order Ilir Gjoni stated that Al Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect behind the attacks on the U.S., did not have bases in Albania.
Gjoni stated that the Albanian government had adopted stringent measures to prevent the infiltration of people into Albania who were sought by other countries for alleged criminal activities. He added that Albania had been working in recent years with the intelligence services of several countries, including the U.S., and had exchanged information with them in this regard.
U.S. Ambassador to Albania Joseph Limprecht stated that the U.S. was appreciative of the support it had received from the Albanian government and intelligence service for Washington's effort to pursue the perpetrators of the attacks.
In recent years, Albania has taken steps to identify and expel foreign Islamic extremists from the country. Many of them sought out Albania as a safe haven for their operations in the mid-1990s due to the lax government and security measures in place at that time.
In 1998, joint action by U.S. and Albanian intelligence authorities resulted in the arrests of about 10 terrorist suspects, including several alleged to have been associated with bin Laden. Two of those arrested were Egyptian nationals sought by Egypt. They were extradited to Egypt, where they were tried and executed.
Regional Leadership Tour Highlights Macedonian Crisis
Washington, D.C. - During a tour of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Turkey as the current chairman of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo highlighted the threat to regional security posed by the situation in F.Y.R. Macedonia in talks with government officials. He proposed that the foreign ministers of these SEECP countries take concrete steps to facilitate a long-term solution to the crisis.
SEECP was founded in 1996 by its member countries, which also include F.Y.R. Macedonia, to strengthen cooperation among southeast European nations and promote regional stability and integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures.
In meetings with Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic and other officials in Belgrade, Milo urged that Kosovar Serbs be encouraged to participate in the November elections in Kosovo to advance democracy in the province. His trip to Belgrade marked the first visit to the Yugoslav capital by an Albanian foreign minister in 13 years and the first visit by an Albanian official since Tirana and Belgrade re-established diplomatic relations early this year. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic will assume the role of SEECP chairman in March 2002.
Fair Elections Indicate Democracy Consolidating
Washington, D.C. - The ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Ilir Meta held its parliamentary majority in June general elections against a center-right coalition led by former Albanian president Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, further consolidating a more stable political climate that contrasts with the fractious and at times violent climate of recent years.
Meta, in office since 1999, said he would focus on accelerating reforms, particularly the revamping of the justice system, and on tackling corruption, organized crime, and trafficking during his new four-year term. He also is aiming at completing negotiations with the European Union on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first formal step toward EU membership, and fulfilling membership application requirements.
Meta has overseen a return to economic growth since becoming prime minister, a success that was recognized when his party won a landslide victory in local elections last October.
Representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who observed the June election process said it had generally been fair and Albanians had made considerable progress toward meeting international standards for democratic elections, though there were some isolated violent incidents and irregularities.
The polling was the first time general elections had been held since 1997, just after an Italian- and Greek-led peacekeeping force restored order following months of anarchy, triggered by the collapse of fraudulent financial schemes in which most Albanians had invested.
Meta's government was internationally commended for its handling of the refugee crisis during the 1999 conflict over Kosovo, when about 500,000 refugees flooded into Albania from the Serbian province, and for its cooperation with NATO during the alliance's bombing of Yugoslavia.
Greece, which had previously criticized Albania for alleged discrimination against its ethnic Greek minority in the southern part of the country during local elections, expressed satisfaction with the June election process.
Regional Task Force in Engineering Exercise
Washington, D.C. - A three-month exercise aimed at developing the engineering capabilities of the Southeast European Brigade (SEEBRIG), a seven-nation Balkan force to be used for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in the region, ended in late June in the northern Albanian town of Lac.
The 4,000-member brigade, headquartered in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, was founded in 1998 by Albania, Bulgaria, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and Romania, with the United States, Slovenia, and Croatia acting as observers. The U.S. joined representatives of all the founding countries of the brigade, except F.Y.R. Macedonia and Italy, in building a 1.6-mile road in the Mati River basin as part of the exercise, which was named "Cornerstone 2001." A similar exercise is scheduled to be held in Bulgaria next year.
During a meeting of the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial (SEDM) in Thessaloniki, Greece, in June, Balkan defense ministers determined that a decision concerning the first deployment of SEEBRIG in the region would be made in the fall.
The force has been operational since May 2001 and could operate under NATO on a mandate from the U.N. or the OSCE. Using the force to help patrol the Kosovo-F.Y.R. Macedonia border or in Bosnia are among the options that have been discussed.
May / June 2001
Bush Administration Support for Regional Role
Washington, D.C. - During a visit by Prime Minister Ilir Meta to Washington, U.S. officials expressed their support for the stand Albania has taken toward the conflict in F.Y.R. Macedonia and the situation in Kosovo by urging cooperation and condemning extremism and violence. The officials also commended the role Albania is playing in encouraging regional cooperation in combating illegal trafficking and organized crime.
In meetings between Meta and President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Attorney General Ashcroft, and other high-level officials, the administration pledged to continue assisting Albania's efforts to carry out democratic, social, and economic reform, including reform of the judiciary and enacting laws to improve the climate for foreign investment.
By August, Washington and Tirana are expected to sign a 10-year bilateral plan to reform the Albanian military, which will include achieving interoperability with NATO by 2006. Since the early 1990s, a bilateral working group has met annually to discuss cooperation on defense issues. U.S. defense assistance to Albania for fiscal year 2001 is about $9 million.
Since 1991, Albania has received about $236 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for programs involving democratic and economic transition and health care, with $32 million allocated for this year. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency is also providing $10 million to Albania this year under the South Balkan Development Initiative.
May / June 2001
Active Cooperation in Balkan Integration
Washington, D.C. - Albania has assumed the rotating chairmanship of a regional cooperation forum, the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), from F.Y.R. Macedonia.
The initiative was launched in June 1996 by the foreign ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia to promote stability and security in the region. The countries work together to advance democracy and economic prosperity in the member countries and further the integration of the region into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. The forum also covers cooperation in the environmental, judicial, social, and humanitarian sectors, while furthering the fight against organized crime, terrorism and illegal trafficking in the region.
During the annual meeting of SEECP foreign ministers in Tirana in May, the delegates denounced the ethnic Albanian insurgencies in F.Y.R. Macedonia and southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, while reaffirming their support for the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.
Other SEECP annual summits are held by the member countries' heads of state and government, presidents of parliaments, energy ministers, and public order ministers. Yugoslavia will assume the chairmanship of SEECP in March 2002.
Leadership Consensus for Stability, Territorial Integrity
Washington, D.C. - Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta stated that Tirana was categorically against any changes in borders in the Balkan region, including those of F.Y.R. Macedonia, whose police and army were attacked by ethnic Albanian insurgents in February and March. Meta asserted that the continued territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country were essential for regional stability. The prime minister added that the members of the ethnic Albanian minority in F.Y.R. Macedonia had made strides in gaining rights, and there was no reason for them to pursue a conflict with authorities.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, meeting with Meta on the sidelines of an international conference in Athens, said that the stance of the Albanian government during the Macedonian crisis had contributed to peace and stability in the region.
Albanian President Rexhep Meidani rejected the idea that politicians in Albania harbor notions of a Greater Albania, stressing that Tirana is committed to the integration of ethnic Albanians into the countries in which they live and the integration of the entire southern Balkan region into the European Union. Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said that Tirana did not support any kind of extremism among ethnic Albanians in F.Y.R. Macedonia.
Regional Anti-Crime Headquarters in the Works
Washington, D.C. - Representatives of the public order ministries of Albania, Greece, and Italy are to meet in Tirana to lay the foundations for the establishment of a regional law enforcement center in the Albanian town of Vlore on the Adriatic coast. The focus of the center, which would encompass all of southeastern Europe, would be to coordinate regional activities against illegal trafficking of all kinds. Albania has submitted a proposal to obtain financing for the center under the Stability Pact.
Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis and his Albanian counterpart, Ilir Gionimet at the border between Greece and Albania to discuss efforts to stem the cultivation and distribution of cannabis in Albania. Chrysochoidis said Greece would continue to offer assistance to strengthen Albania's police force, particularly the border units.
Health Care, Reconstruction Are Focus of Athens Aid
Washington, D.C. - The Albanian portion of Greece's $572 million program for the economic reconstruction of the Balkans, which also includes Bulgaria, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia, including Kosovo, is set to get underway. The majority of the $50 million being allocated to Tirana by Athens over the next five years will be funneled into projects related to health care.
An announcement on the matter was made by Deputy National Economy Minister Yiannis Zapheiropoulos during a visit to Tirana to participate in a meeting of the joint ministerial committee on economic, industrial, and technical cooperation between the two countries. The meeting was concluded with the signing of a cooperation agreement in the economic and industrial sectors.
Turkey Pledges Further Military Cooperation, Modernization Aid
Washington, D.C. - The Turkish Navy has spent $16 million for the repair and modernization of the Pasha Liman naval base in the Albanian port of Vlore in order to upgrade the base to NATO standards.
The renovated facilities, which include a shipyard and war college, were inaugurated in a ceremony attended by the commander of the Turkish Navy, Admiral Ilhami Erdil, and Albanian President Rexhep Meidani. Admiral Erdil pledged to expand Turkey's assistance to the Albanian military, which has included providing logistical aid to a commando brigade.
January / February 2001
Yugoslavia Ties Facilitate Stability
Washington, D.C. - Diplomatic relations between Albania and Yugoslavia have been restored. Belgrade severed relations with Tirana in March 1999, when NATO began its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in an effort to halt Serb repression in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority. During the Kosovo conflict, Albania supported the alliance by giving it full access to Albanian territory and ports.
Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said that determining the future of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo would be the most important aspect of relations between Belgrade and Tirana. Yugoslavia has long accused Tirana of backing separatist Albanians in Kosovo.
Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta's December visit to Kosovo to meet with local and international officials marked the first such visit by an Albanian government leader to the province, still legally part of Yugoslavia. The prime minister offered to work closely with the U.N. mission and NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo to fight illegal trafficking and organized crime.
November / December 2000
Minority Voting Rights Resurface in Row with Athens
Washington, D.C. - Tension between Athens and Tirana developed amid Albanian government accusations that Greece had interfered in October 15 municipal runoff elections in an Albanian town heavily populated by ethnic Greeks and Greek government allegations of serious electoral violations that had worked against the Greek minority party.
The alleged incidents occurred in the southern border town of Himare, where the ruling Albanian Socialist Party claimed victory in a runoff it said was free and fair, while asserting that visiting Greek politicians had pressured voters to cast their ballots for the Greek minority party, the Union for Human Rights Party.
Athens cited numerous attempts to prevent residents from voting. About 600 ethnic Greek Albanians employed in Greece were kept waiting at the border for eight hours before being allowed to return home to Himare to vote. The Albanian Interior Ministry blamed delays on improper documentation.
The Greek government sent an official delegation of parliamentarians to Himare to monitor the voting. The lawmakers operated separately from the group of election monitors working under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE group, which did include other Greek monitors, confirmed that serious election irregularities had occurred in Himare, including intimidation of election officials. It also verified evidence of fraud in 3 of the region's 13 election centers. The monitors emphasized that the irregularities did not have an impact on the overall election results. U.S. observers noted that both Albanians and ethnic Greeks were responsible for irregularities, which the Albanian government said it would investigate.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou wrote a letter to European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten in which he said that Albania needed to respect the rights of its Greek minority. The EU is expected to send a committee to Tirana in early 2001 to discuss a cooperation agreement with Albania.
Following a meeting between Greece's Foreign Ministry General Secretary George Savaidis and Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta in Tirana concerning the rights of minorities in Albania, the Albanian government said it would enact improved citizens' rights laws.
The ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania has occasionally been a source of friction between Athens and Tirana, with claims by the Greek government that the minority has been mistreated. The size of Albania's Greek minority is disputed since many of the 300,000 to 800,000 Albanian citizens living and working in Greece are ethnic Greeks. Athens claims there are about 400,000 ethnic Greeks residing in Albania, while Tirana estimates that there are no more than 120,000.
In runoff elections nationwide, the ruling Socialist Party consolidated its majority hold on municipal governments. The opposition Democratic Party of former president Sali Berisha boycotted the runoff, claiming a manipulation of results of the first round on October 1an allegation denied by international observers.
New Prospects for Foreign Trade, Investments
Washington, D.C. - Albania has become the 138th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a step that will boost overall trade by reducing tariffs and will attract investment to the country.
Tirana has been negotiating WTO membership for the past two years while simultaneously implementing legislative changes concerning the revamping of customs laws, the protection of intellectual property, and the enhancement of trade in sectors such as the production of textiles and agribusiness.
Meeting requirements for WTO membership has started to bring Albania’s trade legislation in line with European Union standards, facilitating Tirana’s preparations for hopeful accession to the EU. By the end of the year, Tirana is expected to begin negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, an agreement that F.Y.R. Macedonia will conclude with the bloc in November.
The agreement will demand less of Albania than the standard association agreements the EU has signed with some eastern European countries, but it will bring the country closer to the bloc through more EU assistance in exchange for labor, market, and social reforms, privatization, new management techniques, legal system uniformity, and anti-corruption measures.
Fair Elections Offer Stability Hopes
Washington, D.C. - The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Ilir Meta made strong gains over the opposition Democratic Party led by former president Sali Berisha in the first round of municipal polling on October 1, regarded as the fairest and most peaceful elections Albania has had since communism was overthrown in 1991.
The way the elections were conducted was seen as a welcome step toward stability in a country often marked by political irregularities, violence, and intimidation. A second round was scheduled for October 15 in 40 percent of the municipalities.
The elections were the first test of popular support for the Socialist-led coalition since it came to power in the 1997 general election, ousting the authoritarian Berisha and ending months of anarchy caused by the collapse of nationwide pyramid investment schemes. The capital, Tirana, and other major cities were won by the Socialists for the first time.
Berisha accused the government of widespread irregularities in drawing up electoral registers. His accusations were rejected by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the elections and had helped amend the country’s election code to provide an internationally acceptable electoral framework covering polling stations nationwide.
Berisha never accepted the results of the 1997 election, and his party has boycotted parliament for much of the past three years, stoking tension between the party and the Socialists. His supporters also attempted to stage a coup in 1998.
Security Cooperation with Greece Against Border Crime
Washington, D.C. - Greece praised Albania for the cooperation that has been achieved between the two countries' public order ministries with regard to combating organized border crime and controlling drug trafficking across a shared frontier.
In a meeting in Tirana with Albanian officials, including Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said Albania had taken major steps in improving security in the border region. To mark the minister's visit, the Greek public order ministry donated 10 armored police vehicles to the Albanian police.
The minister supported Albania's proposal to establish an international center in its Adriatic port of Vlore to enhance anti-smuggling efforts in the region. Officials from Greece, Albania, and Italy will meet on the Greek island of Corfu in September to discuss regional security issues and fighting crime.
Greek Construction Project Axed
Washington, D.C. - Greek investment in Albania was dealt a major blow in August when the Albanian government ordered three Greek companies to discontinue a $50 million project involving the construction of oil storage facilities in the Adriatic port of Durres.
The companies, which included state-controlled Hellenic Petroleum, had already invested $10 million in Albania's oil sector, following the 1999 signing of a contract with the Albanian government, which granted them a 20-year lease for the construction of the facilities. In addition, Hellenic Petroleum had bought 75 percent of Albania's Global fuel company, which controls about 10 percent of the local market. Greece is the second-largest investor in Albania after Italy.
During a visit to the U.S. for talks with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other officials, Prime Minister Meta said the decision allowed Albania to conform to a 20-year World Bank plan for development of the Durres region, including the construction of a major highway. He said oil-related installations in Durres would have to be transferred to another location to permit the development plans to move forward. Meta stressed that relations between Albania and Greece have never been better.
July / August 2000
Tirana Demands Bring Greek Force Departure
Washington, D.C. - Greece has decided to pull the bulk of its 200-soldier contingent out of Albania in response to what it reportedly regarded as excessive demands by the Albanian government concerning the terms for the continued stay of the force. The troops first arrived in the country in December 1997 to help establish stability after the outbreak of a period of social and economic unrest. Some 30 soldiers will remain to continue training an Albanian rapid deployment brigade.
Infrastructure projects costing $24 million have been undertaken by Greece, including the restructuring of the Albanian Army; the repair of Albanian military helicopters and airplanes; the delivery of 10 armored personnel carriers; combatting crime in cooperation with Albanian authorities; building and repairing hospitals, and providing medical treatment; and setting up army bases and refugee camps. Projects financed by Greece at the Adriatic port of Durres, worth nearly $6 million, are in the process of being tendered. Greek investments in Albania are expected to reach $200 million by the end of 2000.
Athens also called on Albanian authorities to step up security on their side of the Albanian-Greek border after a Greek border guard was killed near the city of Kastoria by suspected drug smugglers from Albania. Greece has recently deployed 250 additional patrol guards along the mountainous border, a favored crossing point for drug and weapons smugglers and immigrants, and has stressed the need for Tirana to cooperate with Athens more fully to control organized cross-border crime.
May / June 2000
Bilateral Ties with Montenegro Isolate Serbia
Washington, D.C. - Albania and Montenegro have launched new initiatives to build unprecedented bilateral cooperation in the economic, trade, and cultural sectors. In February, Montenegro reopened its border with Albania, which had been closed since 1997 when anarchy broke out in Albania.
Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo and Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac signed two agreements in Podgorica outlining the new initiatives. They pledged to work on joint projects under the European Union-sponsored Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, including roadrailroad, power, metallurgy, tourism, and ecology projects, the management of water resources, and cooperation in health and education.
Police officials from Albania and Montenegro also met in Podgorica to discuss joint efforts to fight crime, prostitution, and smuggling.
The jumpstart in Podgorica's relations with Tirana reflects Montenegro's intent to take an increasingly independent line from Serbia to circumvent the international sanctions against Yugoslavia under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and offset Belgrade's imposition of a trade ban against Montenegro in March. Belgrade broke off diplomatic relations with Albania last year during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Montenegro's population of 650,000 includes 45,000 ethnic Albanians.
March / April 2000
Turkey Provides Large-Scale Military, Economic Support
Washington, D.C. - During a visit to Albania, the first by a Turkish premier since 1993, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit announced that Ankara would give the country $120 million over the next four years, about $30 million annually, to modernize the Albanian military. The aid will increase to $80 million annually in 2004.
The current allotment provided by Turkey constitutes half of Albania’s annual military budget. The aid includes modernization of a naval base at Durres.
Ecevit was accompanied by a large business delegation. Turkey wants to increase its economic presence in Albania, particularly in the planned privatization of certain sectors such as telecommunications and construction. Turkey’s KENT Bank has bought a 60 percent stake in Albania’s National Commercial Bank, the first state-owned bank to be privatized, and KURUM, a Turkish steel-maker, is participating in steel production in the country.
Ankara has written off interest payments of $10 million on loans to Albania and has rescheduled the repayment of the principal of $15 million. In addition, the Turkish government has approved a new $10 million loan for Albania.
Turkey and Albania enjoy good economic and political relations. After the economic and political crisis erupted in Albania in 1997, Turkey sent members of its military to the country to train the army and help restore stability.
March / April 2000
Meeting with Greece and F.Y.R. Macedonia Promotes Regional Cooperation
Washington, D.C. - Reflecting the efforts among Balkan countries toward regional cooperation since last year’s formulation of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, the foreign ministers of Albania, Greece, and F.Y.R. Macedonia held talks in two towns near the point where the three nations’ borders meet to discuss the potential for development along their joint frontiers and security matters such as the situation in Kosovo and southeastern Serbia.
Taking place in Ochrid, F.Y.R. Macedonia, and Korce, Albania, a former center for cross-border trade, the talks were part of ministerial meetings in the region to promote joint economic development and regional security.
Albanian Foreign Minister Pascal Milo and his Greek and F.Y.R. Macedonian counterparts, George Papandreou and Alexander Dimitrov, discussed cross-border projects such as regional electricity interconnections and the trans-Balkan highway linking Albania with F.Y.R. Macedonia and Bulgaria’s Black Sea ports. The countries hoped that Stability Pact funding would be provided for these projects.
While he was in Albania, Papandreou accompanied Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta to southern Albania to visit communities inhabited by the ethnic Greek minority. It was the first joint visit by a Greek foreign minister and an Albanian prime minister to the region. The degree of cultural freedoms provided to this minority by the Albanian government has long been a point of contention between the Greek and Albanian governments.
Environmental Cooperation with Greece and Macedonia
Washington, D.C. - Albania, F.Y.R. Macedonia, and Greece have established the first cross-border nature reserve in the Balkans by agreeing to work together to protect a major ecosystem straddling their common borders.
In a meeting between Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, F.Y.R. Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis in the northern Greek town of Florina, the three countries announced the creation of the Balkan Park of Prespes to preserve the region surrounding Lake Prespes. This wetland complex is an important bird sanctuary.
The decision, coinciding with the International Day for Wetlands, includes commitments by the three countries to protect the quality of the region’s waters, safeguard wildlife and bio-diversity, and develop an integrated, environmentally sensitive approach to eco-tourism in the region. In addition, the leaders pledged to promote the preservation of traditional architecture in the area, including Byzantine and post-Byzantine monuments. Simitis said Greece would establish a multinational educational and research center in the park, within the framework of a European Union initiative, to monitor the ecosystem.
Energy Sector Expands with Greek Cooperation
Washington, D.C. - As part of its $318 million Balkan reconstruction program, Greece will spend $16 million over the next three years to upgrade the electric power transmission and distribution network in the Korce region of southeastern Albania to alleviate chronic power outages in the region. Athens has also signed an agreement with Tirana to supply it with electric power at a rate below market price. With the announcement of these initiatives during a visit of Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta to Greece, his first foreign visit after taking over the premiership, a decision was also made to send a delegation of Greek officials to Albania in January to inspect existing technology related to the management of water resources and the building of hydroelectric plants in the country. Albania has placed a high priority on the upgrading of its electricity grid and further development of its hydroelectric potential. In July 1999$103 million was pledged at an international donor conference for 11 projects to be undertaken throughout the country to further this goal. Albania and Greece are two of six countries in southeastern Europe that are establishing a regional electricity grid and market, in cooperation with the EU, to improve competitiveness and efficiency in this sector. To assist Tirana in diversifying its energy sources, Athens is considering incorporating an Albanian link into the natural gas pipeline to be constructed by 2002 from Otranto, Italy, to Igoumenitsa, Greece.
Broader Economic, Tourism Ties with Athens
Washington, D.C. - During Prime Minister Meta’s visit to Athens, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said Athens would lend direct economic support to Albania’s state budget. Meta responded by referring to his country’s relations with Greece as strategic. Greece is Tirana’s second-largest trading partner and second-largest investor.
The tourism boards of both countries also signed an agreement to boost economic relations through the development of infrastructure and investment programs in the tourism sector, the encouragement of participation in tourism fairs, and the training of employees in the tourism sector. Simitis told Meta that Athens had decided to give foreign workers in Greece, including about 500,000 Albanians, permanent residency and work permits. Meta, in turn, promised educational rights for the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania.
Political Struggles Widen Power Vacuum
Washington, D.C. - Prime Minister Pandeli Majko resigned in October after losing the leadership of the ruling Socialist Party to Fatos Nano, his predecessor as prime minister. Majko was replaced by the deputy prime minister, Ilir Meta, appointed as head of government by leaders of the ex-communist Socialist Party. The split in the party could signal the onset of a power vacuum in a country that urgently needs to deal with its severe social, economic, political, and security problems, and could threaten the longevity of Meta’s administration, the party’s third in three years.
Nano’s return to the helm of the party just a month after former president Sali Berisha was re-elected as head of the opposition Democratic Party reflects the dominant role still played in both parties by old guard politicians of the isolated Stalinist government, which ruled up to 1991.
Majko and Meta, 31and 30 respectively, represent a new generation of politicians. As demonstrating students, they helped topple the Stalinist regime and are seen as forces that could work toward political reconciliation, the eradication of crime and corruption, and the establishment of a sound economy.
Majko, upon resigning from office after only a year, said party power struggles had prevented him from tackling the country’s problems. He did, however, achieve a degree of political reconciliation between the government and the opposition Democratic Party, which had feuded during Nano’s administration, leading to a 10-month boycott of parliament by Berisha. As a result of Majko’s national unity meeting with Berisha during the Kosovo crisis, political tension was reduced and Berisha ended his parliamentary boycott last summer. Majko’s conciliatory gestures toward Berisha reportedly angered senior Socialist Party members and likely played a role in his defeat.
October 1999 - November 1999
Former President Pushes Irredentist Plan
Washington, D.C. - Albanian opposition leader and former president Sali Berisha told a convention of his Democratic Party in Tirana that Albanians living throughout the Balkans should consider uniting in a federation if they feel mistreated by authorities in Kosovo, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Montenegro, and Greece. Some 3 million Albanians live in Albania, and there are about 1.3 million in Kosovo, 750,000 in F.Y.R. Macedonia, and 45,000 in Montenegro. Albanians make up about 500,000 of the 700,000 illegal immigrants in Greece. Berisha said his party favored an independent Kosovo as the only way to promote stability in the region.
Despite international pressure for new leadership in Albania, Berisha was re-elected Democratic Party leader after Genc Pollothe, deputy party chief, pulled out of the race after attacks on him by the pro-Berisha media and alleged anonymous threats of violence against him and his family if he did not withdraw. Berisha’s presidency was condemned by the United States and other Western countries because of his authoritarian rule and use of violence to secure political goals.
August 1999 - September 1999
NATO Deployment For Kosovo Mission Supplies, Infrastructure
Washington, D.C. - Some 2,500 NATO troops will be deployed in Albania by early September to provide logistical support for the Kosovo Implementation Force (KFOR), the alliance's peacekeeping operation in Kosovo.
The troops will maintain the supply line between the Albanian port of Durres on the Adriatic Sea and the town of Kukes on the Kosovo border, and will carry out infrastructure work, including repairs to the Durres-Kukes road. Italy is expected to be the lead nation in the force, which will be under the direction of KFOR commander, British Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson.
Some 4500alliance troops, scaled back from the force of 8,000 NATO soldiers assisting the U.N.-led relief operation for Kosovar Albanian refugees, are scheduled to leave Albania by the end of August. The U.S. has withdrawn the 24 Apache AH-64A attack helicopters brought to Albania in April but never deployed in the Kosovo conflict.
August 1999 - September 1999
U.S.-Berisha Deal Ends Parliament Boycott
Washington, D.C. - Albania's opposition Democratic Party, led by former president Sali Berisha, has ended its ten-month boycott of parliament, a significant step toward stabilizing the government and diminishing the political polarization that has impeded political, economic, and social reform in the country.
The boycott was launched in response to the killing of one of the party's deputies, Azem Hajdari, in September 1998. Several days of rioting followed, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Fatos Nano and the installation of Pandeli Majko as prime minister. Berisha was believed to have engineered the riots.
U.S. diplomats were instrumental in persuading Berisha to return to parliament. In their discussions with Berisha, they agreed to take statements from him about the Hajdari case and turn them over to the Albanian government with a request that it accelerate the examination of the case. Berisha had said he would not return to parliament unless the government completed the investigation of Hajdari's assassination, but he had been unwilling to give statements on the matter to the Albanian authorities.
In a speech to his party, Berisha said that fulfilling the request of the U.S. government to return to parliament was a gesture of gratitude for Washington's efforts on behalf of the Albanian people during the Kosovo crisis.
June 1999 - July 1999
Refugee Crisis Diminishes as Kosovars Depart
Washington, D.C. - Some 447,000 of the 754,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees that fled to Albania, F.Y.R. Macedonia, and Montenegro to escape ethnic cleansing in Kosovo returned to the Serbian province by the end of June, three weeks after NATO-led peacekeepers had begun to enter the province when the allied bombing campaign against Yugoslavia ended. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has forecasted that the majority of the Kosovar refugees dispersed throughout the Balkans will return home before winter.
With the entry of peacekeepers into Kosovo, the refugees immediately began flocking back into the province unescorted, despite warnings from relief agencies and peacekeepers to wait until the shortages of water, food, electricity, and shelter had been reversed, and land mines, booby traps, and unexploded bombs, which have killed or wounded dozens, had been cleared. The situation was complicated by the fact that aid workers had just begun to set up relief operations for an estimated 500,000 displaced persons who had stayed in Kosovo.
It was not until the last few days of June and the beginning of July that the U.N. began organized bus convoys to transport refugees to Kosovo from Albania and F.Y.R. Macedonia.
The exodus of nearly one million refugees from Kosovo, primarily since the NATO air campaign began on March 24, had included 444,000 to Albania, 250,000 to F.Y.R. Macedonia, and 70,000 to Montenegro. Even with the return of large numbers of refugees to Kosovo in June190,900 remained in Albania, 59,000 remained in Macedonia, and 42,200 were still in Montenegro at month’s end. Some 80,000 refugees that had been evacuated from F.Y.R. Macedonia remained in western Europe and other regions.
June 1999 - July 1999
International Aid Offsets Refugee Burden
Washington, D.C. - The World Bank in June approved a $45 million loan to Albania as part of a $200 million international financial package to offset the burden on the national budget resulting from the presence of nearly half a million Kosovar refugees in the country.
The government estimates that the Kosovo crisis has added $160 million to the budget deficit, an enormous figure in a country where a government worker’s average monthly salary is $71. It also increased Tirana’s foreign borrowing needs from the $40 million forecasted for 1999 to $200 million. Donors, including the World Bank, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, have agreed to organize another donor conference for Albania if additional financing is needed.
Some $20 million of the $45 million structural adjustment loan from the World Bank will be made available to Tirana in 1999 and will be added to the $30 million public expenditure support loan approved by the Bank in May. The greatest financial support will come from the EU, which will provide an additional $65 million on top of the $20 million already promised by the bloc. Foreign donors, including the U.S., Norway, Finland, Canada, Greece, Switzerland, and Japan, will cover about 20 percent of the government’s planned expenditure of $1.1 billion this year.
April 1999 - May 1999
Kosovar Refugee Flow Overwhelms Resources
Washington, D.C. - Albania, Europe’s poorest country, is struggling to feed itself following an influx of more than 430,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo by mid-May, swelling the country’s population of 3.4 million by more than 12 percent. The Albanian population of Kosovo was 1.8 million in early 1998. This population began leaving the Serbian province in March of that year, when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic launched an offensive against the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) after it escalated its separatist attacks against Serbian authorities. The number of Kosovar refugees in Albania was only 22,000 when the Milosevic regime started its systematic ethnic cleansing of Kosovo in mid-March of 1999 and the NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia began.
Albania and F.Y.R. Macedonia have been the destination of the majority of the 790,000 refugees that have fled or been expelled from the Serbian province by Yugoslav forces since the airstrikes were launched. About 900,000 have left Kosovo over the past year.
Albanian citizens have opened their homes to more than 260,000 of these refugees, with the remainder being sheltered in camps set up by international and national relief organizations. The financial burden of the refugees and the disruption in trade resulting from the conflict are expected to severely strain the fragile economy of the country and its weak state institutions.
Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko has said the government will put no limit on the number of refugees entering the country, while urging the international community to provide sufficient funds to finance Tirana’s relief effort. He said the government will need about $820 million to support the refugees if they stay until the end of the year. Majko has stressed the importance of keeping the refugees close to home so they can be quickly relocated when peace has been established in Kosovo.
April 1999 - May 1999
NATO’s Main Staging Area Against Serb Forces
Washington, D.C. - The Albanian government, seeking eventual entry into NATO and the EU, has strongly endorsed the alliance’s airstrikes against Yugoslavia, which began March 24, and has urged NATO to send ground combat troops into Kosovo if the bombing raids fail to end Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing of the Serbian province. The government has ceded control of the country’s international airport, Adriatic ports, airspace, and military infrastructure to NATO for both military and humanitarian activity, making Albania the only country bordering Yugoslavia that has placed no restrictions on alliance operations on its soil. Belgrade has severed relations with Tirana over its decision to allow widespread use of the country’s facilities by NATO.
The alliance has brought 12,000 troops into the country, which have been involved in providing security and logistical support for the country’s relief effort. The force includes over 3,000 U.S. Army ground combat troops serving as support for 24 U.S. Army AH-64A Apache helicopters and ground-based multiple-launch rocket systems.
April 1999 - May 1999
NATO Helicopters Increase Threat Capability
Washington, D.C. - In late April, about four weeks after the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia began, the first of 24 Apache helicopters now in Albania began to arrive. The helicopters are low-flying gunships designed to seek out and destroy tanks and other armored equipment in bad weather and at night. Armed with Hellfire armor-piercing missiles, the Apaches are accompanied by 18 ground-based multiple-launch rocket systems, which could be used against enemy air defenses that threaten the helicopters. At the moment, the presence of the Apaches is serving as a deterrent to significant incursions of Serbian forces into Albania, although shelling of the villages along the Albanian side of the Kosovo border has become fairly routine.
Although the use of the Apaches in Kosovo would mark the U.S. Army’s entry into a conflict waged by the air force and navy, the Pentagon has insisted that their deployment in the Serbian province would be part of a continuing air campaign. With operational altitudes as low as 100 feet off the ground, the use of the Apaches would open an escalated phase in a war that has been waged from an altitude of three miles, with limited risk to NATO pilots. The helicopters are vulnerable to hundreds of shoulder-fired missiles in Yugoslavia’s arsenal.
April 1999 - May 1999
KLA Separatism Tied To Former President
Washington, D.C. - Local reports indicate that guerrillas of the KLA, fighting against Serbian forces since March 1998 to achieve an independent Kosovo, have been training for at least a year and a half on the farmlands of former Albanian president Sali Berisha, the current leader of the main opposition Democratic Party. Berisha, whose party continues to boycott the Albanian parliament over disputes with the ruling Socialist Party that ousted him from power in 1997, has called for a Greater Albania consisting of territory belonging to Greece, Yugoslavia, and F.Y.R. Macedonia.
During his 1995 visit to Washington, Berisha, who had been president since 1992, pledged to help quell Kosovar independence aspirations in exchange for increased U.S. aid to Albania. By 1996, Berisha had reneged on his commitment and had begun encouraging separatist sentiment in Kosovo through the KLA. He was also serving as the conduit between the KLA and ethnic Albanians abroad, primarily in the U.S. and Germany, who were providing support for the guerrillas toward their goal of achieving Kosovo’s independence.
During the six months of anarchy that broke out in January 1997 when the Albanian economy collapsed, Berisha-controlled mobs broke into military depots and confiscated as many weapons as possible. Berisha transferred most of these weapons to the KLA, while the remainder were smuggled into Greece for profit.
The KLA was further strengthened by the decision of U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke to open discussions with the separatist army within four months of the March 1998 outbreak of the Serbian offensive in Kosovo. Holbrooke’s actions are believed to have diminished the authority of the Kosovar Albanian community’s elected leader Ibrahim Rugova. When Contact Group negotiations on the Kosovo crisis took place in Rambouillet, France, in February, representatives of the KLA, who months earlier had been charged by the State Department with engaging in terrorist tactics, were leading the Kosovar Albanian negotiating team.
Many of the Kosovar Albanian refugees who decide to stay in Albania rather than return to Kosovo are expected to support Berisha in future Albanian elections, possibly helping to return to power a man who has contributed significantly to the Balkan turmoil and violence of recent years. The current Albanian government openly backs the KLA’s aim of independence for Kosovo, but it says it does not back the guerrillas militarily.
February 1999 - March 1999
New Trans-Balkan Pipeline Project
Washington, D.C. - A feasibility study will begin this year for the construction of an oil pipeline linking the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas with the Albanian Adriatic port of Vlore. The 560-mile pipeline, which will run through the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R. Macedonia) will be built by the U.S.-owned Albanian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) at a cost of about $850 million. It will supply crude from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, transported to Burgas by tanker, to a refinery near Skopje.
February 1999 - March 1999
U.N. Project Reduces Prevalence of Guns
Washington, D.C. - The United Nations has launched an experimental aid program to encourage Albanian citizens in remote villages to exchange their illegal weapons for improved law enforcement, electricity supplies, telecommunications, and roads. U.N. officials hope the program, which will also create jobs, will result in the collection of some 10,000 assault rifles and pistols believed to be in the hands of about 50,000 villagers in 100 villages in the Gramsh district of central Albania. The weapons are part of an estimated 650,000 guns looted from military depots throughout the country during the unrest that followed the collapse of government-backed pyramid investment schemes in 1997. If the $2 million, year-long pilot program is successful, the U.N. will expand it throughout the country.
December 1998-January 1999
Government And Opposition Talk Reform, Renewal
Washington, D.C. - In a move hailed by the United States as a significant breakthrough in normalizing the bitter political divisions in Albania, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko of the ruling Socialist Party and Sali Berisha, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, met for direct talks in December. It was the first high-level meeting between the Socialist-led government and the opposition since March 1997, a situation that has slowed needed political reform in the country. The two discussed the conflict in Kosovo, investigating the assassination of a Democratic Party deputy in September, and hunger strikes by students calling for better government grants and housing.
A follow-up meeting between Majko and Berisha in January led to a parliamentary roundtable discussion, with the participation of all parties, on the situation in Kosovo and on issues that divide the political groupings. The thaw in relations between the Socialists and the Democrats and the roundtable discussion were seen as positive steps in creating a political climate that could lead the Democrats to end their continuing boycott of parliament that was in effect most of last year.
Berisha has been locked in a power struggle with the Socialist-led government since he was ousted as president of Albania in 1997. Anti-government rallies that he orchestrated in September, following the assassination of the Democratic Party deputy, resulted in two days of rioting and led to the resignation of then prime minister Fatos Nano. The government held Berisha accountable for the rioting and characterized his complicity in the violence as a coup attempt.
December 1998-January 1999
Bin Laden Network Boosts Kosovo Rebellion
Washington, D.C. - Osama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident accused of masterminding two U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in August 1998, reportedly operates a terrorist network out of Albania that has fanned out into other parts of Europe. According to a top Albanian intelligence official, this network has sent fighters to take part in the Kosovo conflict. In January, an Albanian security guard suspected of having links to bin Laden was taken into custody on charges of spying on staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tirana. The embassy has been functioning but has been closed to the public since the Africa bombings. Bin Laden is believed to have established his Albanian operation in 1994 under the guise of heading a Saudi humanitarian agency.
October 1998-November 1998
New Regime on Heels of Anti-government Unrest
Washington, D.C. - Prime Minister Fatos Nano resigned in late September after failing to get the backing of his coalition for a cabinet reshuffle in the wake of anti-government riots triggered by the assassination of an opposition deputy earlier in the month. Thirty-year-old Pandeli Majko was appointed to succeed Nanoas opposition Democratic Party leader and former president Sali Berisha, whose supporters had staged the riots and called for Nano’s resignation, continued to orchestrate street rallies in support of a caretaker government to lead the country to early elections.
Majko served as secretary general of the ruling Socialist Party before becoming prime minister of Europe’s poorest country. He was also a leader of the student movement that helped bring down the country’s hardline Communist regime in 1990. His nomination was seen as a tactical move to ensure that the Socialist coalition remained in power under a younger leader who was not associated with the Stalinists that governed Albania for 46 years, including Nano and Berisha.
Majko faces major challenges in restoring political stability, addressing security issues, improving an economy that has little foreign investment, fighting organized crime, corruption, and smuggling, and dealing with issues associated with the influx of some 200Kosovar refugees into northern Albania.
October 1998-November 1998
Greek Funds to Rebuild Domestic Infrastructure
Washington, D.C. - Greece released a $17.86 million loan to Albania in November to assist in the country’s economic and social restructuring. The loan agreement was signed in Athens by Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who stressed that the development of Albania’s economy contributed to the stability of the Balkans. The funds constituted the third installment of a $71.44 million Greek loan agreed to two years ago.
At an October conference in Albania, bringing together foreign ministry officials from some 30 nations to discuss international aid to the country, Greek Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou underscored Greece’s commitment to continue cooperating with Tirana in the fields of security and defense, as the country works toward restoring order, eliminating corruption and smuggling, and protecting private investments. In September, Greece also signed an agreement with Albania offering the Greek government’s support for Albanian efforts to work toward integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
October 1998-November 1998
Freedom of Movement on Greek Border
Washington, D.C. - A new zone will be created next year at the Greek-Albanian border to allow residents on both sides to move freely across the frontier up to the limits of the zone, which have yet to be determined. The residents in the border zone will receive a common identification card issued jointly by the Greek and Albanian governments, which will enable them to live in one country and work in the other, within the designated area. In January, Greece initiated a program to establish legal residency for some 400, 000 Albanian immigrants currently living and working in Greece, whose remittances constitute a significant portion of the Albanian economy.
August 1998 - September 1998
Political Rivalry Sparks Unrest, Violence
Washington, D.C. - The assassination of a leading opposition politician in mid-September touched off two days of rioting and protest marches in Tirana against the government of Prime Minister Fatos Nano. At least seven people were killed and about 75 were injured as government forces launched a counterattack against the protesters, who had set fire to Nano's officec, commandeered tanks, and seized government buildings. Sali Berishathe leader of the opposition Democratic Party and former Albanian president, blamed the death of party deputy Azem Hajdari and his bodyguard on Nano, whose Socialists defeated the Democrats in legitimate elections last year. As Berisha called for Nano's resignation and engineered the protests, the resurgence of rivalry between the two politicians threatened to unleash a wave of political instability in a country that has been slowly recovering from seven months of anarchy ending in July 1997. The government accused Berisha and his supporters of attempting to stage a coup. The U.S., the European Union, and NATO appealed for calm, fearing that unrest in Albania could hinder efforts to resolve the crisis in neighboring Kosovo.
August 1998 - September 1998
U.S. Cooperation Against International Terrorism
Washington, D.C. - Authorities in Albania have been working with the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies to apprehend Islamic militants within the country suspected of ties with terrorist organizations, including the network of Osama bin Ladenthe Saudi dissident accused by Washington of planning the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in early August. Prompted by Washington's mid-August statement that an attack had reportedly been planned on the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albanian police arrested 10 foreign nationals as possible suspects in the plan. Upon learning of the possible attack, the U.S. evacuated dependents and non-essential personnel from the embassy and reinforced security around it. Prime Minister Fatos Nano pledged to tighten border controls to curb international terrorist activity in the country.
In August, Albanian officials also confirmed that, over the previous two months, the CIA had helped them seize four suspected Islamic militants in Tirana, accused of links with Egypt's Islamic Jihad group, which claimed responsibility for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and is believed to have ties with bin Laden. A few days before the embassy bombings, the International Islamic Front for Jihad threatened to take retaliatory action for the arrest of the four men, who had been extradited to Egypt.
Sixty percent of Albania's population is Muslim. Since 1991when religious worship was legalized after 50 years of communist rule, Islamic countries have been providing funds to build mosques, schools, hospitals, and charity centers. It is believed that Albania's state of anarchy in 1997 gave Islamic Jihad and other groups the opportunity to enter the country freely and establish operations. Some groups may be using involvement in charity as a cover for illegal activity.
August 1998 - September 1998
NATO/PFP Exercise Signals Warning To Serbs
Washington, D.C. - Military personnel from NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations conducted a five-day exercise in Albania in August to demonstrate NATO's readiness to contain the crisis in neighboring Kosovo, if necessary, and to improve the interoperability of the countries' potential to conduct peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance operations. Since the conflict in Kosovo began six months ago, Albania has accused Serbian forces of repeatedly violating its border through illegal crossings by ground troops and incursions by helicopters into its airspace in pursuit of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) separatists. A 1700force from 11 alliance countries, including the U.S., carried out the Cooperative Assembly exercise, along with troops from Russia, Albania, and Lithuania. The drill included parachute drops of soldiers and supplies, medical evacuation, and search-and-rescue missions, using 60 aircraft and helicopters.
August 1998 - September 1998
Expanded Turkish Military, Economic Cooperation
Washington, D.C. - The Turkish parliament agreed in late July to send Turkish naval personnel to Albania to reconstruct a military dockyard. President Rexhep Meidani requested Turkey's assistance during Turkish President Suleyman Demirel's visit to Tirana earlier in the month. For the past year, 300 Turkish troops have been stationed in a suburb of Tirana, where they have been contributing to the rebuilding of Albania's armed forces. Demirel and government officials also discussed the establishment of a free-trade pact between Turkey and Albania, cooperation in the construction of a major Balkan highway, and the participation of Turkish companies in the development of the country's infrastructure. Ankara will upgrade the technology of an Albanian factory that will produce ammunition for Turkey's use.
Greece, which is also assisting Albania with the reorganization of its military and maintains a 250-member military unit in the country to oversee the process, has excellent relations with Albania. Analysts view Turkey's heightened interest in aiding Tirana as an attempt to actively compete with Greece for geopolitical advantage throughout the Balkans, especially in the countries along Greece's northern border, which also include F.Y.R.O.M. and Bulgaria. In addition, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the U.S. have offered to implement programs to train Albanian military personnel. The country's military currently has about 5,000 soldiers, but the government plans to increase the number to 30,000 over the next five years.
August 1998 - September 1998
Joint Coast Guard Patrols Launched With Greece
Washington, D.C. - Maritime police from Greece and Albania began joint patrols in August along the two countries' common border in the Ionian Sea to prevent illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and unlawful fishing in the region. The agreement establishing the patrols was signed during President Rexhep Meidani's visit to Athens in March.