Europe calls for fair elections
The Council of Europe (CE) has passed a resolution calling for fair elections in Albania. In answer to Albanian concerns about upcoming local elections, the Council came out in support of the electoral law passed by the leftist parliamentary majority and is calling on all political parties to accept the election results.
The law has been rejected by most of the opposition parties.
Democratic Party Reform Group (DPRG) member of parliament Genc Pollo praised the CE monitors' report while voicing some objections about the electoral law, but Vili Minarolli, a representative of Sali Berisha's Democratic Party, expressed stronger objections on points that had not been considered by the CE.
The Council's report also praised the progress made by Albania despite the grave economic and social crisis of 1997, brought about by the collapse of massive pyramid schemes and by the Kosovo crisis of 1999. According to the CE, Albania has managed to establish state authority over the entire country.
At the same time, the council called on Albanian authorities to prove to the international community that they are doing their best to find and bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Democratic Party Deputy Azem Hajdari.
Complaints about foreign firms
In Brussels, the Albanian government recently delivered a file of complaints about foreign companies that are abusing their contracts' time limits and compromising the quality of Albania's road and highway construction projects.
In an official visit, Prime Minister Ilir Meta and Transport Minister Sokol Nako met with European Commission foreign affairs head Chris Patten to discuss the Albanian status report.
Patten, Meta and Nako used the occasion to bring attention to the government's most serious complaints about construction contractors working on the Albanian sections of the East-West and South-North International Corridor.
After several meetings, both sides agreed to create a Common Commission, made up of European donor countries and the Albanian government, to carry out oversight duties with regard to the contracts.
Foreign investment update
The Institute for Cooperation and Development (ICD) has determined that Albanians were the primary investors in the "1991-2000 Investment in Albania Challenge," in which foreign investments have not increased since 1997.
The private sector has developed significantly in Albania, and only 36 percent of investment through the initiative has been public, amounting to USD 1.5 billion. By contrast, some USD 2.5 billion, or 64 percent, has been from local or foreign private sources.
Investment in construction has outstripped agricultural investment.
According to the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Trade, foreign (mostly Italian and Greek) investment in trade, industry, transportation, services and construction amounted to USD 459 million for the years 1992 to 1999. Experts claim that if the informal economy is taken into account, actual investment numbers are even greater.
Meanwhile, Bank of Albania figures indicate that emigrants working abroad now support their families at home in numbers 28 percent greater than at this time last year.
According to recent statistics, about 230,000 Albanians are unemployed and the remittances they receive from relatives abroad are essential. In 1996, funds sent from family members outside Albania totalled some USD 700 million.
Cooperation with Italy
Enrico Letta, Italian Minister of Industry and Trade, arrived in Tirana last week to meet with top government officials.
During a visit with Mustafa Muci, Minister of Public Economy and Privatisation, Letta praised the cooperation between Albania and Italy and called for greater Italian investment in Albania, especially in the private sector.
Representatives of the Italian companies Mont Edison and Enel accompanied Letta on his visit.
Edison, an energy production firm, delivered a study to the Albanian government identifying energy sector projects that would require investments of as much as USD 1.22 billion.
Edison also said it had identified numerous infrastructure projects in electrical generation and transmission that would develop a link between Albania and natural gas networks in the region. The projects would be carried out over the next 10 years for some ITL 2 trillion (USD 492 million).
Edison added that investment in the electric sector is urgently needed to restore the Albanian system to an international standard of security and reliability. The studies were carried out under an agreement between the Albanian Ministry of Public Economy and Privatisation and the Italian company.
Minister of Public Economy and Privatisation Muci met with Edison Executive Director Dell Nino, who stated that Edison is interested in steadily developing cooperation with the Albanian government on several long-term projects.
Crime crackdown with Macedonia
Interior Minister Spartak Poci met with Dosta Dimosvka, his Macedonian counterpart, during an official two-day visit to Macedonia.
"We need to find ways to cooperate against the criminal element," declared Poci.
The primary aim of the Interior Minister's visit was to expand the war against crime and illegal trafficking in the two neighbouring countries.
The Albanian Minister proposed and found support for the idea of a multilateral meeting between Albanian and Macedonian security officials in order to stimulate interregional discussion of illegal trafficking.
Off the US watchlist
On 12 June, the US State Department released a communiqué declaring that Albania is no longer listed as a country at risk of terrorism.
Last year, on 14 April 1999, the State Department had warned American citizens against travelling in Albania due to the possibility of Islamic terrorist attacks masterminded by Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden.
According to the 12 June communiqué, the security situation in Albania has improved greatly, which should also help stimulate foreign investment.
Warning from Athens
Following the death of a Greek border guard in a shootout with what are believed to have been Albanian smugglers, Greece has issued a diplomatic warning to the Albanian government. The guard was killed when four Greek border guards intercepted a group of people near the northern Greek frontier to check their identities.
According to the semi-official Athens News Agency, those intercepted were Albanians thought to have been involved in drug smuggling. They answered the guards' challenge with machinegun fire.
In recent years, Greece has increased patrols of its mountainous northern border with Albania to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country and to stop rampant smuggling. Greek authorities have already started a military operation to expel Albanian immigrants by force.
Interior Ministry Poci offered to cooperate in delivering the guilty parties to justice. Albanian military units are stepping up their control of the Albanian-Greek border and have cordoned off some Albanian villages.
Avion Travel rocks Tirana
On Monday, 27 June, Avion Travel, winners of the recent Italian pop music festival in San Remo, performed live in Tirana's main square. Thousands of Tirana's citizens attended and enthusiastically applauded the concert.
Avion Travel is well known in Albania, where most citizens follow the Italian music world on that country's many television channels.
The popular Albanian singer Bojken Lako made a guest appearance with Avion Travel during the performance.
Organised by the Albanian Culture Ministry and the Italian corporation Enel, the concert was broadcast live by Albanian national television.
Artur Nura, 1 July 2000
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