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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 6,124 4,695 4,100 109
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,740 1,380 1,340 120
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Alfred Moisiu

Update No: 094 - (24/02/05)

OSCE, CoE stress need to complete Albanian election reform
Albania had been expected to sign an association agreement with the EU in 2004, but several European institutions baulked, saying Tirana had not done enough to launch key political reforms and fight organized crime. For EU officials, the agreement also depends on the holding of free and fair legislative elections in Albania, expected to take place by July this year. 
The poor Balkan state has had difficulty organising elections since it emerged from one of Europe's most isolated communist dictatorships in the early 1990s. International observers noted serious deficiencies in parliamentary elections in 2001, and municipal elections last year were embroiled in allegations of vote-rigging. 
The OSCE Presence and the Office of the Council of Europe (CoE) in Tirana issued a joint statement on February 4th, expressing regret that domestic experts have been unable to reach a compromise on the redrawing of the election map, despite efforts by the international community. The two organisations also called on parties in parliament to work towards a solution and complete the election reform ahead of parliamentary elections later this year. 
The major opposition Democratic Party is demanding that the election be held in either late May or early June so it does not affect the summer tourist season.

Albania hopes to join EU in 2014, says PM
Albania hopes to sign a stabilisation and association agreement with the European Union this year and to join the 25-member bloc in 2014, Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Paris in mid-January with AFP.
"The European Union is evolving and today seems more favourable to receiving new members. In 2014, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which seems a perfect date for a new enlargement," Nano said. 
The Albanian prime minister met with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and French President Jacques Chirac, for talks aimed at strengthening bilateral ties. Nano lamented France's paltry investment in Albania. Currently the only significant project, worth €75 million (US$97.8m), is the construction of a Club Med resort village in the southern Albanian town of Saranda, which is expected to open in two years.

The key Kosovo question
On the future of Kosovo, the Albanian prime minister said the UN-run province bordering his country, formerly part of Serbia, should eventually become an "independent state". Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, which Belgrade considers unacceptable. 
Talks on Kosovo's final status are expected to start this year under UN auspices, but the international community has been insisting that Belgrade and Pristina first have dialogue on practical issues. 
In the short term, Nano said the UN administration in Kosovo should be modified to be "less international and more European". He called for an "EU administration for Kosovo that would make current integration strategies in the Balkans more coherent." 

Albanian and Macedonian leaders in key meetings
Hence the importance of another set of meetings. Macedonia is a vital partner for Albania, having an even larger Albanian minority in its population than does Serbia in percentage terms. Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski's two-day visit to neighbouring Albania was appropriately his first official trip abroad since taking office late last year. Arriving in Tirana on 12th January, he met with President Alfred Moisiu, Prime Minister Fatos Nano and Assembly Speaker Servet Pellumbi. 
Regional issues and ways of boosting co-operation between Skopje and Tirana were the focus of the talks. Buckovski and Nano both agreed that economic co-operation should be the main priority for bilateral relations this year. They expressed satisfaction with the level of co-operation between their interior ministries in preventing transborder crime. They also agreed to work together to resolve pending border issues, such as borderlines that split villages or individual family properties. 
"We requested Albania's assistance in the definition of the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. For this we would need also the support of UNMIK and the government in Belgrade," Buckovski told reporters during a joint news conference with Nano, adding that the issue should be resolved before any decision is reached on Kosovo's final status. 
Welcoming Buckovski's initiative, Nano said UN resolutions for Kosovo should serve as the basis for resolving any border problems. He also emphasised the importance of US and EU participation in the process. 
The wearisome dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter's constitutional name was also discussed, with Buckovski receiving assurances from Nano that Albania is ready to assist with efforts to reach a solution. Moving beyond such issues would "contribute to the stability and the Euro-Atlantic integration" of countries in Southeast Europe, Nano said. 
Albanian-Macedonian relations are "excellent" and an "example for the whole region," the prime ministers said. 
During his meeting with Buckovski, Moisiu praised Macedonia's democratisation process and its accomplishments in building a multiethnic society. He emphasised the importance of bilateral agreements on economic issues, free trade, and energy, as well as the two countries' joint efforts towards completion of Transport Corridor 8 and the AMBO oil pipeline. 

Missiles seized in Albania
In a disturbing development which shows how indispensable close cooperation is between the Albanian and Macedonian authorities, Albanian police have arrested four people smuggling in surface-to-air missiles allegedly destined for Albanian separatists in Macedonia. The seizure in Albania of three shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles allegedly destined for Albanian separatists in Macedonia has sparked fears of a brewing security threat in the region.
The SA-7B Strela missiles were intercepted on 13 December. They are believed to have originated in Bosnia or Serbia and may have been destined for Macedonia, where ethnic-Albanian insurgents fought a brief war against the authorities in 2001. Albanian police arrested four people - Sokol Mujaj, Ilim Isufi, Armir Troshani, and Mentor Cani - in possession of the missiles shortly after they entered the country from Montenegro. Bajram Ibraj, director-general of the Albanian police, said, "Four men were caught travelling with the missiles on the Rinas-Vlora road, in a van belonging to a company dealing in sausages. This was a police operation prepared in advance. We are still investigating the origin and destination of the missiles, and our counterparts in Montenegro are also investigating." 
Security sources said that an Albanian separatist group operating in Kosovo and Macedonia is believed to have ordered the missiles. The deal was allegedly brokered by a Bosnian national, who sourced the weapons from a group with links to Islamist and criminal networks. The Russian-made Strela and other surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) pose a significant threat to both civilian and military aircraft. Similar shoulder-launched missiles were launched - unsuccessfully - against an Israeli airliner in Mombasa in 2002 and a more advanced version, Strela 3, hit a DHL cargo plane on approach to Baghdad airport in 2003. According to IWPR's security source, ethnic Albanian extremists in Macedonia have dramatically stepped up military activities in the last three months. They have attempted to obtain SAMs from several sources, possibly for use against surveillance drones and Macedonian attack helicopters. There has also been an upsurge in recruitment, local and international funding and the purchase of medical supplies. The source also claims that insurgent radio communication networks silent since 2001 have recently been heard making test broadcasts.

Unfinished political business
Tension has been rising in Macedonia since mid-November, when up to 300 armed ethnic Albanians appeared in the village of Kondovo near Skopje. The men have since taken control of the village, digging trenches apparently unhindered by security forces. Their intentions are unclear, as are their loyalties. The Interior Ministry has dismissed the men as a group of criminals, while speculation in the local press says they are Islamists linked to a foreign-funded madrassah or religious school in the village. Some local sources claim they are simply unemployed men airing their frustration with the leader of the Albanian party now in the country's governing coalition, Ali Ahmeti, over the poor state of the economy. 
Whatever the explanation behind the Kondovo incident and the arms intercept, analysts warn that the combination of unfinished political business, porous borders, weak law enforcement and a plentiful supply of weapons continues to pose a threat to the stability of the Balkans. However, international attempts to step up efforts against organized crime in the region, including arms trafficking, are bearing some fruit. The announcement of the missile seizure came during a regional conference in Tirana, hosted by Albania's ministry of public order, on tackling small arms and light weapons trafficking in south-east Europe. The conference was organized by the Southeast European Co-operation Initiative (SECI), a Bucharest-based centre for regional co-operation on organized crime, and was attended by law enforcement officers from around the region. 
As well as SECI, there are numerous police training, liaison and assistance schemes in the region run by Interpol, the UN, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the EU. It is clear, however, that the task of combating arms trafficking is huge. One conference delegate, who did not want to be named, pointed out that as no Balkan country grades its criminal intelligence according to the reliability of its sources, it is hard for SECI to assess it. "The idea of doing serious analysis of criminal organizations - the kind that would allow one to take down a whole network rather than just individuals - is also new," he added. Not only is there considerable mistrust between different national police forces, there is also limited co-operation between the various law-enforcement agencies within the same country.
Yet many southeastern European countries are working to limit the trafficking of weapons through their territory, partly to meet strict membership criteria laid down by the EU, and also to show the West that they are serious about tackling organized crime gangs. There is no doubt that Albania and others in the region are making progress, but the improvements sometimes run in parallel to criminal activity that allegedly reaches the highest levels of government. Erion Veliaj, leader of the Albanian civic protest movement Mjaft! (Enough!), told IWPR, "Everything the government doesn't traffic itself, it intercepts to impress the international community."
Earlier in 2004, Premier Nano was accused of facilitating the trafficking of arms to the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, on the strength of allegedly incriminating conversations he had in 1997. He subsequently said that assisting the KLA was morally justifiable. "[Nano's] Kosovo trafficking admission proves people at the top of government know how to traffic arms, and so it may have happened in other incidents. I've seen Albanian-made Kalashnikovs in Rwanda with my own eyes," said Veliaj. Moving weapons, drugs, human beings or contraband across Balkan borders is slowly becoming a riskier business, but it will be many years before trans-national criminals decide that the likelihood of being captured and successfully prosecuted outweighs the attractiveness of illicit profits. Albania is still probably the most gangster-infected country in the Balkans and, therefore, in Europe. 
It is an increasingly active transhipment point for Southwest Asian opiates, hashish, and cannabis transiting the Balkan route and - to a far lesser extent - cocaine from South America destined for Western Europe. It has limited opium output, but growing cannabis production. Ethnic Albanian narcotrafficking organizations are active and rapidly expanding in Europe. It is consequently vulnerable to money laundering associated with regional trafficking in narcotics, arms, contraband, and illegal aliens.

Landmark conference on drugs
Nano insisted when in Paris recently that efforts to stamp out corruption and organised crime were stepped up last year, with adoption of new anti-mafia legislation and a purge of the police force that saw 600 officers sent before the country's courts. 
Albanian authorities last autumn held the country's first-ever national conference on drug usage and trafficking, describing the issue as a government priority. According to Albanian Attorney General Theodhori Sollaku, the country is a transit point for the heroin trade, as well as a site of cannabis production. "Up until now, cannabis has been the only drug produced in Albania. However, there are signs of the presence of heroin and synthetic drugs, like ecstasy," Sollaku said. 
Acting US Ambassador to Tirana Steven Zate urged the government to do more to halt these illegal activities. "The Albanian government, supported by the international partners, has to act on this phenomenon, and not only with the words written in the national strategy," Zate said. Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano urged the creation of a common front. The drug problem is "a negative sign for Albania's image in the world", Nano said, urging politicians to avoid blaming each other and instead work together to enact necessary legislation. 
Albania has come under frequent criticism from the international community for failing to take sufficient steps against organised crime, including narcotics trafficking. The government, however, insists it is doing what it can. Police have identified all the drug traffickers operating in Albania, Public Order Minister Igli Toska claimed, calling on other countries in the region to take stronger measures. "The Balkans is not a region where hard drugs are produced, but unfortunately it is a transit point," he said. 
According to the European Commission's Ambassador to Tirana, Lutz Salzmann, authorities should punish traffickers as well as drug users. "You need to rehabilitate the drug users through social and economic projects. The state has to catch the real traffickers to stop this phenomenon," Salzmann said.

Conference on crime and corruption in the West Balkans
It is singularly appropriate that Albania should host a conference on the subject for the West Balkan countries in Tirana. For it is the natural hub of the drugs traffic and other smuggling activity, with its porous mountainous borders with Montenegro, Serbia (Kosovo), Macedonia and Greece, which for centuries have witnessed smuggling of every kind.
Justice ministers of West Balkan countries have agreed to step up their cooperation in the fight against organised crime and corruption. In a statement approved on September 23rd at the end of a one-day conference in Tirana, the justice ministers of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia said that they would pool their efforts to tackle the growing power of criminal organisations in the region.
"The justice ministers expressed their determination to continue and strengthen further the fight against organised crime and corruption by enhancing the cooperation among countries in the region," the resolution said. The conference, the first of its kind, was convened at the initiative of Albania, one of the most affected countries by organised crime activities in the region.
"Organised crime is becoming an increasingly transnational phenomenon and we cannot combat it alone. We agreed on coordinating our efforts and using more effective means to fight it," Albanian Justice Minister, Fatmir Zhafa said after the conference. The ministers agreed on the adoption of new legislative, practical and technical steps to boost regional cooperation and set up organised justice against organised crime, according to the statement. A waiting world will judge by results.

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EBRD stimulates development of Albanian private sector

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is fuelling the development of the private sector in Albania, New Europe reported. 
It will allot financial aid to small- and medium-sized enterprises. According to a report of the European Commission on the situation on the western Balkans, the EBRD has financed a number of projects in Albania aiming at stimulating its economic development. The projects combined worth stands at €226m.

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Albanian PM welcomes intensification of dialogue with Serbia-Montenegro

Premier Fatos Nano met recently with Minister for International Economic Relations of the Serbia-Montenegro Union, Predrag Ivanovic, and positively assessed the steps undertaken for the intensification of political dialogue between the two countries, ATA news agency reported.
According to the premier's press office, the two authorities assessed that intensification of high-level visits will create the necessary impetus for strengthening the joint commitments and further encouraging economic and trade cooperation between the two countries." The two considered membership of the European Union, creation of a joint regional market and its integration into the EU internal market as a priority objective for the two countries.

Turkey's prime minister to visit Albania, Bosnia 

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will make official visits to Albania and Bosnia to improve bilateral relations with the two Balkan countries, Erdogan's office said. 
Erdogan will visit Albania where he will meet with his Albanian counterpart, Fatos Nano, and the president of the parliament, Servet Pellumbi, before being received by the head of state, Alfred Moisiu. 
The next day Erdogan will travel to Sarajevo where he is scheduled to hold meetings with the Bosnian leader, Adnan Terzic, and other officials, a statement from the Turkish prime minister's office said. 
The following day he will travel to Mostar in southern Bosnia especially to see the city's Old Bridge, which was designed in the 16th century by a Turkish architect. 
A masterpiece of classic Ottoman architecture, the bridge has been restored to its original state after being destroyed during the 1992-1995 Balkan wars by Bosnian Croat forces. 
Albania and Bosnia centuries ago were part of the Ottoman empire. The influence of Turkish culture is still found throughout Bosnia. 

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Albanian premier inaugurates fourth border crossing with Greece

Prime Minister Nano recently attended the inauguration of the new border crossing at Qafe Bote, which links Albania with Greece. Prime Minister Nano was accompanied by Transport and Telecommunications Minister, Spartak Poci, Economy Minister, Anastas Angjeli, Customs Director General, Shpetim Idrizi, Sarande deputies and local government authorities.
The head of government said that the new border crossing, the fourth between the two countries would enable the expansion of the free movement of people, goods and capital between the two countries, Koha Jone reported.
Qafe Bote has been a border crossing since 2000, but henceforth its customs office will also process goods.
"The expansion of functions of the Qafe Bote crossing will have a direct impact on lowering costs of commercial exchanges and increasing the profit rates of local enterprises and the well-being of local consumers," Nano said, adding: "This customs office will expand the free economy in the boundary area and beyond by stepping up economic, social and institutional integration between Albania and Greece, an EU member-country."
For this customs office to start its activity the government has improved the 20-kilometre road infrastructure from Butrint to Shkalle, with the last seven kilometres to be completed this year. "Within the current year work will start to modernize it and bring it up to European standards. The EU will fund 4m euro for Albanian customs. For its part, the Greek government has promised to fund 60m euro for a modern road of European standard from Qafe Bote to Krane, from Krane to Sarande and from Krane to Jergucat," Nano said.

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