Thursday, June 07, 2007

Macedonia urged to ramp up reforms for 2008 NATO invitation

The Macedonian foreign and defence ministers -- Antonio Milososki and Lazar Elenovski respectively-- met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and the ambassadors of NATO member states in Brussels last week. Talks focused on the anticipated NATO membership invitation for the Adriatic Charter countries -- Albania, Croatia and Macedonia -- which many expect in 2008. The group discussed what Macedonia must do for this to happen.

"The NATO secretary-general and the ambassadors welcomed the progress made so far and encouraged the ministers to continue to work in certain areas," said James Appathurai, a spokesman for de Hoop Scheffer.

According to sources, the NATO chief said invitations are planned for next year for the Group, but there are no guarantees, as all three countries need to implement reforms.

In the case of Macedonia, there is a rift between the government and the opposition. The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), the second largest opposition party in Macedonia, left Parliament in January. Political dialogue between the government and the party was launched in April, in hopes that difficulties are overcome and DUI returns to the institutions.

Relations between the government and the opposition must continue to improve, Appathurai said. The Alliance requires that changes are irreversible, and the progress that is achieved is durable, the spokesman added.

NATO has also urged Macedonia to show progress in tackling corruption, rule of law, human trafficking and decentralisation. Reforms in police and the judiciary are seen as particularly important.

Macedonian government officials say the country has intensified its fight against corruption and human trafficking over the past six months. Numerous civil officials suspected of bribery have been arrested and tried, and prosecutions of human trafficking cases have increased, they say.

According to Milososki, Macedonia has a good chance at receiving an invitation for membership and will not miss it. "We have a positive evaluation. That does not guarantee [membership], but [increases our] obligation to continue with the progress in three areas -- tackling corruption and organised crime, decentralisation and the political dialogue."

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