% of GDP
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.
The Macedonians are still experiencing a serious security problem where the Albanians are concentrated. A small number of still active guerrillas are causing incidents that threaten an autumn 2001 ceasefire. But, as we shall see, after setting out what is going on and the history behind it, a new solution is being tried out.
The Macedonians greatly benefited at first from the anti-terrorist campaign since 9:11. The top ranking NATO force- commanders committed themselves to keeping their troops in the troubled Balkan republic after the `Amber Fox ' mission ended in March, 2001.An ugly situation was defused in early autumn of that year as a direct result.
But the Albanians still form a disaffected minority of one third or more (nobody quite knows).Unfortunately it is by no means certain yet that the worst is over. There have been recent incidents involving Albanian activists in Kosovo, about which the world now knows so much. Unidentified members of the National Liberation Army (UCK), the former ethnic Albanian secessionist movement, whose voluntary disbandment in the autumn of 2001 raised hopes of a permanent end to discord, subsequently issued a threatening statement.
The statement indicated that certain disbanded members "will organise and reactivate their units" in preparation for renewed clashes with Macedonian forces. The statement was not made by any leader of UCK and came as a surprise to many of its former members. But there are obviously discontented elements still around among the Albanians in Macedonia.
History of the conflict
The insurgency of the rebels began in February 2001 and lasted for nine months. It ended after more than 100 people were killed, including 60 Macedonian security forces, mainly due to the trust the Albanians came to repose in NATO, which had after all helped their kith and kin in Kosovo in 1999. The militia disbanded in September 2001 after a peace agreement granted the Albanians more rights. But clearly some feel that this has not been implemented fully enough.
In mid-January, 2003, the ethnic Albanian underground group, Albanian National Army (AKSH) announced its intention to mount new offensives. AKSH representatives noted that the Macedonian security forces had been receiving reinforcements from Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and Croatia. They also accused the Slav-Macedonian fraction of the Skopje government of "legalising paramilitary units under the umbrella of the Orthodox Church." This is quite likely to be true.
It was never going to be easy to bring about a permanent concord between the mainly Muslim Albanians and the Orthodox Slavs. But at least a coalition government has been in place, with elements from both communities. The international community needs to remain deeply involved, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Update No: 079 (01/12/03)
The Macedonians are in a quandary. Their country is the poorest of the former Yugoslav republics, with a living standard of only one fifth that of the richest, Slovenia. Admittedly Slovenia is the most prosperous former communist country of them all. It is of course in a good location astride the Alps, while Macedonia is a remote mountainous retreat far from the hub of Europe.
Talks over Kosovo.
The Macedonian government is keeping a keen eye on developments to the north concerning the activities of Albanians, that is of secessionist Albanians, who make up 30% or so of the population (a highly disputed figure), in both Macedonia itself and in Kosovo next door.
On October 14th talks began in Vienna between the Albanians in Kosovo and the Serbs. They are being conducted under UN auspices and cover only four technical areas. But at least after a delay of a year they are taking place. Skopje has the support of the Macedonian majority and even many of the Albanians in the republic in wanting to keep out of any controversy, particularly any that could damage its new status as a friend of the West. President Boris Trajkovsky, a former priest, is particularly esteemed in international circles. He has met with Brussels officials, notably EU President Romano Prodi, to iron out difficulties.
Kosovo Albanians want independence from Serbia, which in all but name is what they already have, thanks to 20,000 NATO troops on the ground there. If they left, there would be an immediate risk of reverse ethnic cleansing taking place, with the Serbs being the victims this time. The underground Albanian National Army(AKsh) claimed responsibility for an attack on a Serbian patrol in southern Serbia in early October, in which a Serb soldier was killed. The attack was conducted by AKsh's special unit 'Cobra'. AKsh also has operatives in Macedonia.
The security situation in southern Serbia remains fragile. AKsh has rejected a peace deal sponsored two years ago and calls for a unification of all Albanian-dominated areas in a Greater Albania, the last thing Skopje, or for that matter Tirana, wants.
Some turn-around in the economy
The economy is faring a bit better than two years ago when GDP fell by 4.5%. Last year growth was barely positive, being 0.07%. But this year it is growing by 3% on an annual basis.
Exports grew by 9.2% this year on an annual basis, while imports rose by 2.9%, a welcome turn-around in the external account. There is of course a long way to go.
Fight against corruption
A major breakthrough has been made in combating corruption, which extends to high echelons in the state and is a massive scourge, restraining economic development. Macedonia is put 106th on a list of 133 countries, tied with Serbia, for corruption compiled by Transparency International. The 'Corruption Perception Index' ranks the two former Yugoslav republics on the same level of corruption as Bolivia, Sudan, Ukraine, Honduras and Zimbabwe. Not the company one wants to keep.
A court in southern FYROM town of Bitola recently started a trial of Dilaver Bojku - the country's alleged top mafia boss and head of a regional human trafficking network.
The court was the scene of intense security activity in recent days, as the trial was seen as a decisive point in FYROM's fight against organised crime.
Bojku also known by his nickname "Leju," denied all charges and insisted he was not running a wide trafficking network in western FYROM.
"I'm not guilty. I'm a family man," Bojku said during his 90-,minute opening speech before the judges.
However, the local prosecutor accused Bojku of a series of crimes, including human trafficking, and announced that several women from Romania and Moldova would testify against the "notorious mafia boss" in coming weeks.
Bojku escaped from prison in late June, but was rearrested in Montenegro shortly afterwards and extradited to FYROM.
At the time, Bojku, described by United States authorities as "king of the western Macedonian underworld," was serving a six-month sentence for human trafficking and prostitution offences.
His escape seriously damaged the Skopje government's attempt to tackle human trafficking and widespread prostitution in ethnically divided FYROM, a country plagued by rampant corruption and the uncontrolled trafficking of weapons, drugs and women.
Local officials and international representatives said that Bojku's case represented a perfect example of corruption involving high-profile mafia structures and state officials.
Bokju was described in the US State Department's recent world trafficking report as a "notorious trafficking kingpin." He was placed on Interpol's wanted list after FYROM's courts laid a total of 17 criminal charges against him.
The largest construction deal ever for Macedonia
The usefulness of political influence has been shown by Trajkovski's role in securing a very important construction contract for a Macedonian firm.
The FYROM-Bulgarian firm Granat-AHM was recently hired as the general contractor for a project to repair 210 kilometres of mountainous road connecting the Ukrainian capital Kiev and the town of Chop on the Hungarian border. The announcement came after meetings in the western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod between Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma and FYROM President, Boris Trajkovski. The 38.9m Euro (US$45.5m) Ukrainian order will be the largest construction project ever managed by a FYROM company, Trajkovski said. Construction is set to begin this year and end in 2004.
Macedonian government, IMF officials begin talks on 2004 draft budget
The Macedonian government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) commenced on 3rd November a one-week talk, which focused on drafting of the budget for 2004, which is part of the Macedonia-IMF stand-by arrangement, MIA News Agency has reported.
"We shall talk about the 2004 budget to see if the set conditions have been changed or not," head of the IMF Mission Franek Rozwadowski said before the first session with the government team, led by Finance Minister Petar Gosev, who will be replaced by Nikola Popovski due to the government's reshuffling.
The IMF board of directors approved the report on Macedonia's economic performance under the stand-by arrangement, Rozwadowski said, but also recommended additional measures for strengthening the business climate, improving the institutional transparency and administration.
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