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In 1990 Albania ended 44 years of xenophobic communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven difficult as corrupt governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, a dilapidated infrastructure, widespread gangsterism, and disruptive political opponents. International observers judged local elections in 2000 to be acceptable and a step toward democratic development, but serious deficiencies remain to be corrected before the 2001 parliamentary elections

Update No: 071 - (27/03/03)

The Albanians are wary of new trouble brewing in their part of the Balkans, trouble emanating, moreover, from the Albanian diaspora thereabouts. The Albanian ethnic minorities are restive once again, both in Macedonia and in Kosovo. Actually the same organisation is hard at work to foment unrest in both places. The Albanian National Army (AKsh) has called for a "spring offensive" in Macedonia.

Skopje - Tirana axis
There are some signs that organised crime is overlapping with these insurgents. It is the biggest headache both Macedonia and Albania face. It is natural that they have decided to join forces to combat the menace. The two countries' interior ministers met in Struga on February 22nd to coordinate measures. The last thing Albania wants is to be dragged into another Albanian ethnic conflict like the one in 1999. The hotheads of the AKsh need to be combated.
They are extremely likely to be financing their operations by running drugs and in human trafficking, of which some 300,000 victims cross the southern Balkans annually, according to the US State Department. Hence the fusion between the terrorists and organised crime. The Balkans is not yet a civilised region.
This is especially true of Albania, even if there have been improvements of late. Bandits still govern the lawless areas in the south and are not absent elsewhere either. Albanians are behind illegal activities in other European countries, notably the UK with its lax immigration rules and procedures.
The government is facing an uphill task here, as it knows. There are reports from Skopje that retired Albanian military officers are assisting their ethnic brethren in AKsh with training and contacts. The Albanians deny this and that the AKsh is using bases in the unruly south of Albania; but their denials are not at all convincing. They need to address the issue urgently.

Economy on the up
One brighter spot is an economy on the mend. Since 1999 there has been growth of 7-8% per annum and near zero inflation. The foreigners coming to town in that year helped enormously. They catalysed more long-term forces for change.
The most important of these was the experience of young reformers in government who had learnt from mistakes they made earlier. But so have the population. Pyramid financial schemes, which ruined many in the mid-1990s, are no longer popular. There are grounds for hope in Albania.

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Southeast European businessmen meet in Kosovo, discuss cooperation

Representatives of 150 companies from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the organization of the Kosovo Business Support in Prishtina, discussed ways of cooperation between them. 
According to the organiser, these trade fairs aim at opening or extending existing markets, finding new sources of raw material, approaching modern technology and machinery and finding new business services and financial sources. 
Debra Wahlberg, chief of the Kosovo Business Support (KBS) said that there were 150 participating companies and business representatives in the trade fair from Southeast European countries, KosovaLive website reported,. She added that the companies, which have had business relationships for many years but have not been able to continue these relationships due to the problems in the region, would also be present. 
Wahlberg said that the businesses should also look beyond their borders, and establish business relationships with the countries of their region. 
Tihomir Simic, representative of the Industrialists' Association from Serbia and Montenegro, told KosovaLive that Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro should legalize the trade relationships, in order to create possibilities for having high quality goods at reasonable prices in the market. 
Simic said that the Kosovo market is the most attractive market in the region, as it has over two million inhabitants, and they receive a high percentage of money and deliveries from their relatives. He said that all those who are thinking about the market of the Southeast Europe with 65 million inhabitants should not ignore the Kosovo market, taking into consideration its central position in the Balkans.
Industrialists from Serbia and Montenegro said that all the businessmen are interested in being present in Kosovo. Further such meetings will also be organized in the future.

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Cabinet adopts energy sector restructuring bill

Albania's Council of Ministers, convened on 27th February for a regular meeting, adopted a draft law on Ratification of the Agreement Between Albania and Italy in Implementation of Restructuring, Technical and Management Programme of Albanian Power Corporation [KESh] and Consolidation of Albanian Energy Sector, ATA News Agency has reported. 
The programme includes technical and professional assistance in the management of KESh and provision of the "know how" organizational expertise through technical assistance to KESh, engineering services, and control of the transmission network, projection of a new Dispatcher Centre, building of new offices for KESh, as well as rehabilitation and equipment of the regional offices with the necessary means. 
The programme is a continuation of cooperation with the Italian government. 
Main activities to be undertaken to reach project-targeted results are: a stable re?organization of KESh, a step by step solution of the energy crisis, and strengthening of the transmission and distribution network of energy in areas of Tirana, Durres and Pogradec.

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Albania denies being deprived of European aid funds

Albania's Foreign Ministry explained to the public that the newly-announced information on Albanian exclusion from European assistance is not reliable, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Agim Neza, declared on 3rd March, ATA News Agency has reported.
Neza said the explanation referred to the journalists' recently was related to the aid accredited by the European Agency of Reconstruction for the countries of former Yugoslavia. He clarified that "the funds allocated by the European Agency for Reconstruction, are part of EU programme's funds that this agency administrates for the countries of former Yugoslavia, included in the previous armed conflicts."
In this context, Neza emphasized that "we find it very important to explain that Albania is not part of the agency's activity mandate."
Funds accorded to Albania in the context of CARDS programme have been already defined and the EU will allocate them soon, in conformity with the domains and procedures determined for all countries undergoing the stabilization-association process, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson announced.

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Albanian deputy premier, Iranian deputy foreign minister discuss cooperation

Albanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ilir Meta, held a meeting on 27th February in Tirana with Iran's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ahan, to express the will of both countries for signing, in the near future, a number of agreements in the economic field, ATA News Agency has reported. 
Head of the press office close to Albanian Foreign Ministry, Lidra Zegali, said that during the meeting further strengthening of relations between both countries were discussed, mainly in cooperation in the economic field, and in the field of energy, oil and gas industry. 
In this context, it was decided that an agreement of economic cooperation would be signed shortly, also an agreement on defence and investments and on lifting of double taxation. 

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