Books on Albania
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.