Gold coins worth USD 2.8 million (1.8 million pounds) have been stolen from Albania's Treasury depots in suburbs of the capital, Tirana, the government declared on Sunday. Prime Minister Ilir Meta, based on information he had received, ordered the Interior Ministry on March 31 to inventory the state's gold reserve kept in Kerrabe. Prime Minister Meta said he had informed international financial institutions and told them he was determined to find out who was responsible and to increase security at Kerrabe. "The investigation by the prosecutor's office shows that the theft took place in March 1997," government spokesman Thoma Gellci told reporters. Gellci also accused the then-ruling Democratic Party of involvement in the theft. But Sali Berisha, former President of the Republic and current President of the Democratic Party, declared in January of this year that the Treasury had been robbed and accused "elements of the current government" of being involved in stealing the gold from a tunnel in the mountain of Kerrabe, south of Tirana.
The Italian government is going to invest in the new international airport in the southern city of Vlora. Since the 1920s, Vlora has had two military airports and has been the home of the Academic Aviation School Cadets. Vlora 's mayor, Neki Dredha, confirmed to Albanian reporters that the Italian government would begin construction of a civilian airport with a 3000-meter-long airfield&—a multi-billion Italian lira investment. The Italian contractors have already arrived in Vlora, and the project will be formally inaugurated within a few days. The new airport will serve both domestic and international flights.
The Italian company ENEL will manage the Albanian Electric Distribution Corporation, KESH. The management of KESH by a foreign company specialising in this field was a condition imposed by the donor institutions, including the World Bank and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, for financing the electric corporation's projects. Funding will total USD 140 million. According to a source in the Public Economy and Privatisation Ministry, USD 100 million will be used to improve KESH's power distribution network and USD 40 million for renovation of the power station.
Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, during a two-day visit to Malta, met with that country's senior government representatives to discuss increasing relations between the two countries. Milo met on Tuesday with Maltese President Guido de Marco. According to the Foreign Ministry's press office, the two discussed the difficulties Albania faced during last year's Kosova crisis, and De Marco emphasised the readiness of the Maltese people to help deal with the consequences of the crisis. Milo also met with Maltese Prime Minister Edward Fenech Adam and Foreign Minister Loe Borg. The two foreign ministers signed an agreement abolishing double taxation and inked a Cooperation Protocol between the two ministries.
Defence Minister Luan Hajdaraga left on Tuesday for Mons, Belgium, to take part in the ceremony installing US Air Force General Joseph Ralston as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces in Europe, replacing out-going General Wesley Clark. During his four-day visit, Hajdarago will also take part in bilateral NATO-Albanian meetings in the context of the individual dialogues NATO has established with the member countries of Partnership for Peace. Albania signed the NATO-Albania Individualised Plan in 1996.
According to sources tracking the economic reconstruction of Kosova, there are now five to six times as many cars in the province as before the war. Oblivious to queuing decorum, speed limits and parking rules, the teeming traffic signals a raw capitalist revolution that has sprung from the wreckage of the recent Albanian-Serbian ethnic conflict in the province.
The consolidated budget of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) for 2000 is DM 562 million (USD 281 million). About 200 million German marks, now the legal tender in Kosova, represent pledged donor grants, but with the war in Kosova over, international interest has waned.
NATO's top commander, General Wesley Clark, acknowledged on Monday that peacekeepers had been unable to protect everyone in Kosova but predicted that the security situation would improve. Clark, who was making a farewell visit to the province before he ended his term as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) on Wednesday, also urged local people to forget the province's bloody past and build a tolerant society. Serbs and other minorities have been the targets of numerous violent attacks by Albanians since NATO and the United Nations moved into the province last June. "It is true that we haven't been able to protect every single piece of property and every individual. We wish we could do better," said Clark, who was greeted warmly by Albanians who hugged him and shook his hand during a walkabout in the capital city of Pristina.
Yugoslav soldiers beat up two Albanians who had crossed into Montenegro looking for work, Albanian police sources said on Friday. The two were handed over to Albanian border guards at the Hani i Hotit crossing point by Montenegrin police late Thursday. Montenegrin police claimed the Albanians were mistreated by members of the Yugoslav Army. The two were heavily beaten under the pretext that they had crossed the border illegally. Outgoing NATO SACEUR General Wesley Clark earlier this week warned Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to stop intimidating Montenegro by increasing its military presence in the small coastal republic. Montenegro signed agreements with Albania this week aimed at boosting bilateral relations--an added snub to Belgrade, which broke diplomatic ties with Albania last year.
NATO's new military commander, General Joseph Ralston, will travel to Kosova on Friday for a two-day visit with NATO-led peacekeeping troops and to review the security situation. "We'll be visiting each of the brigade centres there, as well as the KFOR leadership. I want to go and take another look," declared Ralston on Wednesday. "It's been a few months since I was in Kosovo, and I want to check on progress there and see what the challenges are." Ralston, who took over as NATO SACEUR from General Wesley Clark on Wednesday, gave no details of his Kosova schedule. NATO currently has some 70,000 troops in the Balkans, with the Kosovo Force (KFOR) keeping the peace in Kosova and the Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia.
Michaele Schreyer, Budget Commissioner of the European Commission (EC), has told the European Parliament that Balkans aid, including aid to Serbia, could cost the European Union euro 5.5 billion (USD 4.91 billion). Last year's "Agenda 2000" budget deal, agreed to in Berlin the day NATO began bombing Yugoslavia to force Serbian troops out of Kosova, had already earmarked euro 1.8 billion, primarily intended for neighbouring Bosnia. The agreement put a ceiling on future EU spending and paved the way for reform of the bloc's agricultural and regional aid programmes, which together make up two-thirds of the EU's annual euro 95 billion budget. The EC proposed on Wednesday that the EU make up the shortfall between its current planned Balkans expenditure and the new estimated total needs by culling from other foreign aid budgets, notably to ex-Soviet republics, and by diverting funds from the agricultural budget.
Artur Nura, 7 May 2000