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International recognition of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 was delayed by Greece's objection to the new state's use of what it considered a Hellenic name and symbols. Greece finally lifted its trade blockade in 1995, and the two countries agreed to normalize relations, despite continued disagreement over FYROM's use of "Macedonia." FYROM's large Albanian minority and the de facto independence of neighbouring Kosovo continue to be sources of ethnic tension.
Update No: 071 (27/03/03)
The Macedonians held an election last autumn that has seen a new government emerge. Its predecessor had to contend with a major threat of civil war. It appeared to come to an end in late 2001, with the disbandment of the ethnic Albanian insurgents in the north of the country and the inclusion of some of their ex-leaders in the new government.
Unfortunately, the story is not yet over. In Struga recently the underground group, Albanian National Army (AKsh), announced "a spring offensive" against the security forces in both Macedonia and Kosovo. There is little prospect that this will ignite a new civil war. The population at large wants to avoid it.
But things could become sticky. Indeed, they already have. The AKsh claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the courthouse in Struga. The move came as a likely retaliation for a new campaign against organised crime in Western Macedonia, which the authorities in Skopje think may well have support from rogue elements in Albania.
Skopje - Tirana 'axis for good'
The Macedonian and Albanian security forces are going to join forces to fight the crooks and the insurgents, who are apparently in cahoots. The idea is a good one, giving them a common enemy and common purpose. The focus of the campaign will be to prevent the spread of lawlessness in the whole region of the Southern Balkans, where US State Department experts estimate that 300,000 victims of human trafficking are transferred annually. Drug trafficking is rife.
The need for a concerted approach is clear. Close cross-border cooperation is to be developed. There have already been some successes.
Earlier a court in Struga sentenced an ethnic Albanian to a year in jail over human trafficking. Edip Bauta, owner of a nightclub in Velesta near Struga, was sentenced in a rare human trafficking case in Macedonia, based on testimonies of a Moldavian and two Romanian girls.
The court in Struga is about to start two more serious human trafficking cases against two notorious mafia bosses - Dilaver Bojku "Leku" and Bulnet Makelara "Carlito Brignate," who are believed to be major players in western Macedonia's prostitution ring.
High-up corruption under attack
Changes in government can often reveal traces of corruption in the outgoing administration. Corruption goes right to the top.
Former FYROM Finance Minister, Besnik Fetai was recently arrested in Croatia on charges of abusing his official position in a US$2.3m (2.1m Euro) privatisation fraud. Croatian police arrested Fetai, a member of the Democratic party of Albanians (PDsh) acting on an international arrest warrant issued after the investigation of his involvement in the privatisation of the country's largest printing house, Nova Makedonia.
The new government cancelled the planned privatisation in early December, after an internal investigation showed that Slovenian company, Jug Uslugi, had bought some 67% of the company's shares with government funds. Fetai's party leader, Arben Zhaferi, accused the Social Democrat - led Macedonian government of seeking revenge on the previous government.
These operations are all low key compared with the earlier civil war. They can be justified on more grounds than one. Anything is better than plunging the country into another Balkan bloodbath.
National Bank promises strong presence in Skopje
A conference was held recently in the capital of Macedonia, on the topic "Skopje: A European Capital in a New Economic Era," with main speakers the Greek National Economy and Finance Minister and President of the EcoFin, Nikos Christodoulakis, and the National Bank of Greece (NBG) Governor, Theodoros Karatzas.
The NBG governor carried out a thorough insight of the local market and widely referred to the prerequisites for a healthy and vital environment of the local banking sector, reports New Europe. Concluding his speech, Karatzas stressed that "NBG can and will play a vital role here in Skopje by utilising and extending the advantages of the convergence of southeastern Europe and its constituent countries with the European Union."
Referring to the future of Stopanska Banka, where NBG is co-owner together with EBRD and IMC, Karatzas noted that bank will be modernised further and continue to invest "in well-trained banking professionals and in advanced banking methods and systems so that economic stability and prosperity spread out and become well entrenched."
In the framework of the conference both Christodoulakis and the NBG board took the opportunity to discuss issues of economic cooperation with Macedonian President Boris Trikofski, and Prime Minister, Branko Crvenkovski. Representatives of almost 100 Greek enterprises from the north, as well as from the south of Greece took part in the delegation.
Macedonia to apply for EU membership by the end of this year
Macedonia has announced that it is likely to submit its application for European Union membership by the end of this year, HINA News Agency has reported.
"We are planning to announce the candidacy by the end of the year," Macedonian Foreign Minister, Ilinka Mitreva, said in Brussels on 24th February after she met the EU Troika.
"Macedonia is making serious preparations for the EU membership, and is expecting Greece, which is currently holding the EU presidency, to help in these bids," Minister Mitreva added.
Macedonia is one of five southeastern European countries covered by the Stabilization and Association Process. Only Croatia and Macedonia have so far concluded the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Brussels and Albania have opened negotiations on it, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro are far from opening talks on the matter.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Macedonian premier, Swedish foreign minister discuss relations, security
Sweden will continuously support Macedonia's efforts for integration in the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, Swedish Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, said at the meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister, Branko Crvenkovski, MIA News Agency has reported.
The two officials expressed satisfaction from the good political relations between Macedonia and Sweden and have committed to promote and intensify them in the future.
Lindh welcomed the policy of the Macedonian government aimed at stabilizing the situation and eliminating the risks as well as the progress made in implementation of the Framework Agreement and enhancing the power of institutions all over the country. She emphasized the readiness of Swedish businessmen to invest in Macedonia.
Foreign investments in Macedonia are far below possibilities
"Macedonia is in a very complex economic stage where the foreign investments amount only one billion US dollars, which is far below out desires and capabilities," Prime Minister, Branko Crvenkovski, said in his address at the Second Business Roundtable with the Macedonian Government.
Crvenkovski said that foreign trade remained as one of the commitments of the country, together with the lowering of the gap in productivity and the elimination of corruption in the state administration.
The Prime Minister also referred to the collapse of the former SFRY, which besides the bloody wars and millions of displaced persons, also brought along a devastated economy and infrastructure. "The main question today is if the period of conflict and tension in the region is over," Crvenkovski said.
"I deeply believe that this period is over, due to several facts. We learned our lesson, and we paid a high price for that; the challenges cannot be resolved if we look to the past and if any attempt to rectify historical errors causes new injustice. Fortunately, in the region there is no Government that advocates changes of the borders," Crvenkovski said, adding that the international community learned that it is better if it acts preventively, than to repair the consequences from the war.
Referring to the Framework Agreement, Crvenkovski assessed it as a "protection from all forms of radicalism."
"We should be aware that there is no economic development and prosperity without stability. I expect you, the businessmen, to be the first to overcome the ethnic barriers," he said.
Referring to the reforms in the economic and in the political system, enhancement of democracy and the rule of the market economy, Crvenkovski said that the main pillar of the economic growth was the private sector, which in Macedonia participates with over 75% of GDP.
"Today almost 97% of imports and exports are liberalized. The quantitative restrictions are cancelled and the average customs protection is highly reduced. This trend will continue with our entry in the World Trade Organization. As Government, we will continue to enhance the cooperation with the international financial institutions and the harmonization with the EU regulations," he said.
At the end, Crvenkovski said that the period of corruption in the public tenders was over, adding that from now on the businessmen would have to respect the laws.
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