Thursday, January 31, 2008

Residential apartments fraud in Ohrid, Macedonia

Over 30 people fell victims to illegal sale of apartments in the Macedonian town of Ohrid, Makfax's correspondent reported.
According to sources, the damaged citizens are keeping constant touch among themselves in an attempt to locate Milco Najdeski, the owner of the real estate agency "Centar", who is suspected of having committed the fraud.
The Police are also trying to track down Najdeski as well as the Bulgarian citizen Yuliana Antova, a suspected accessory in the scheme.
The two are suspected of having sold a single apartment to several buyers in a building that was to be constructed on a property owned by Antova, scooping nearly 300,000 euros from about 20 citizens.
Unofficial information suggests that the total amount of the illegally generated money and the number of defrauded citizens might be much higher.
The suspects are unavailable to the law enforcement authorities and are very likely to have fled aboard.

Hague trial against Macedonia's Boskovski

Boskoski defense begins in The Hague

Trial of former Minister of Interior Ljube Boskoski on case "Ljuboten" began Wednesday in the Hague Tribunal with the introductory statement of defense lawyers.

Boskoski's lawyer Edina Rasidovic stressed he is not accused of doing or taking part in the execution of any type of crime act, but that he is indicted of "pure command responsibility".

"Our position is that evidence presented thus far do not prove such responsibility by Ljube Boskoski", said Rasidovic.

According to her, in a case where consequences are grave, the prosecutor could not hope that deficiencies in evidence could be compensated by facts, which have not been proven.

"We are convinced that the prosecutor did not call certain witnesses to take the stand, because he was aware they could jeopardize his case by their testimony. However, this cannot justify the prosecutor", emphasized Rasidovic.

She said that the defense presents evidence and summons witnesses not because it needs to present something new or provide additional explanations.

"The reason why we present defense evidence is neither to determine the absence of Boskoski's responsibility, because we claim that his alleged responsibility has not been determined during the presentation of the Prosecution's evidence", stated Rasidovic.

She stressed the defense believes that the Court Council could release Boskoski on the basis on presented evidence.

"We want to remove even the slightest doubt that the prosecutor has left standing regarding issues of importance for the case. We hope that our evidence will give a positive contribution in clearing up these vague things, thus giving the opportunity to the Court Council to pass the judgment without any doubt", said Rasidovic.

She stated that evidence would show that it is impossible to conclude that Boskoski did not undertake all possible reasonable measures in the given circumstances.

"We have faith that this Court will pass the only just decision - release of Ljube Boskoski", concluded defense lawyer Edina Rasidovic at the end of the introductory statement.

The trial will resume with the hearing of the first of 15 defense witnesses. Four of them will testify on the spot, while 11 have provided written statements.

The trial of Boskoski and Tarculovski began on April 16, 2007, with the hearing of about 50 witnesses summoned by the prosecutors.

Former Minister of Interior Ljube Boskoski and police inspector Johan Tarculovski are charged with violation of laws and customs of war regarding the Ljuboten case. Boskoski is charged with "command responsibility" i.e. he approved Tarculovski to form and lead a police unit, which in August 2001 carried out an operation in Ljuboten when seven residents of Albanian nationality were killed.

Despite guaranties provided by the Macedonian Government, the Tribunal did not grant provisional release to Boskoski and Tarculovski.

Ipswich swoop for Macedonian star

Macedonia midfielder Velice Sumulikoski has joined Ipswich Town from Turkish club Bursaspor for an undisclosed fee, subject to a work permit.

The 26-year-old has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract at Portman Road after impressing during a trial.

"Velice has come in and made an immediate impression," Ipswich boss Jim Magilton told the club's website.

"He's slipped under the radar and we have have managed to pick him up. We are delighted to have him here."

Sumulikoski made his debut for Macedonia in 2002 and twice played against England in their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

The player, who has been capped 48 times by his country, started his career at NK Publikum and had spells with Slovacko and Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg before joining Bursaspor in 2006.

He recently had a trial at Blackburn, who were reportedly interested in signing him.

Macedonia’s Property Market Awaits NATO Boom

Real estate analysts rarely take into consideration the policies of military alliances when considering property market values. But in Macedonia the possibility of joining NATO has property experts convinced that prices will shoot upwards.

By Jane Dimeski in Skopje
The result, for the moment, is an unusual lull in the market, analysts say. The lull is akin to a pause in trading before the publication of new economic figures, as prospective buyers and sellers wait to see whether the US and its NATO partners choose to extend membership to the small Balkan country three months from now.

In April, when NATO heads of state meet at a 2008 Summit in Bucharest, Romania, Macedonia could receive an invitation to join the alliance, along with Croatia and Albania.

Owners of apartments and business premises in Skopje and across the country are withdrawing properties from the market, anticipating a new price boom if NATO expands for a second time into the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia joined the alliance in 2004.

Last year property owners saw prices rise by 20 percent, although prices actually fell in some European post-communist transition countries during the same period. Few believe the potential for strong short-term price growth is exhausted in Macedonia.

Market experts see a direct link between integration in the military alliance and the potential for more growth.

“People are withdrawing their apartments from the market, because they believe there will be another price boom if we enter NATO. Currently we have increased demand not only from foreigners but also from local clients, and comparatively little on the market,” Milena Miloseska, owner of Pin-project, a real estate agency in Skopje.

The possibility of NATO expansion is not the only factor in play. This probable price driver is combining, experts say, with anticipated liberalisation of rules on foreign ownership of land.

Nonetheless, the current real estate pricing dynamic underlines how central NATO’s role has already become in this non-member state and in the surrounding Balkan neighbourhood. Its influence extends far beyond military affairs and politics, indirectly into matters of homeownership, business location and other aspects of the economy where demand is sensitive to broad perceptions of stability.

Zoran Ivanovski, an economist at European University, a private university in Skopje, reckons real estate would be the first sector to profit from Macedonian membership in NATO. Judging by the experience of other new NATO member states, including neighbouring Bulgaria which with Slovenia and five others joined in 2004, factors would range from broadly positive implications for the country’s security to specific demands for new investment, notably in construction and related industries.

“Becoming a NATO member, the country will be seen as less risky. As for foreign companies, NATO will guarantee political and economic stability, which makes investment much safer. This will increase interest in investment, and growing demand will increase prices,” Ivanovski says.

Market data from Bulgaria in the year it joined NATO indicate that the security factor may have paid off there. Though it is statistically impossible to measure the impact of NATO’s expansion on Bulgarian property prices, in isolation from other factors, 2004 was a banner year there. Prices in leading Bulgarian markets such as Sofia and Varna doubled.

A place for Macedonia within NATO is anything but guaranteed. Matthew Nimitz, the United Nations mediator in Macedonia’s long-running dispute with Greece over the former Yugoslav republic’s use of the name “Macedonia”, also the name of a neighbouring Hellenic province, visited Skopje last week. His visit pointed toward a moment of decision for an alliance whose decision has been hampered in part by objections from Greece, a member state.

Uncertainty about Macedonia’s security role also persists elsewhere in the Balkans. Earlier this month, a deadly crash near Skopje of a Macedonian military helicopter returning from participation in the European Union’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina highlighted continuing security challenges in the region. Chief among these is the unresolved status of Kosovo, Serbia’s breakaway province.

In a politically fluid and uncertain neighbourhood, there is a growing concern among Macedonians that their country risks missing out on the kind of economic transformation already well underway in those post-communist countries that have already joined NATO and the similarly eastward-bound EU.

Last year’s price increases show that a significant number of local and foreign individuals and companies believe such risk will be averted.

Miloseska, the agency owner, says prices in the centre of Skopje are climbing toward levels seen in much larger, richer capital cities. The price for one square metre of space ranged from 800 euros to 1,000 euros twelve months ago, but a typical price is now 1,400 euros, she says.

Vlado Pecijarev of Remis, building company from Ohrid, says prices there remain lower than in Skopje – from 450 euros per square metre in outer-lying areas to 1000 euros in the historic centre.

The recent scarcity of properties on the market – whether apartments in central Skopje or lake-view houses in the holiday resort of Ohrid – accounts in part for that price increase. If properties held back at this time flood onto the market after April, the impact might initially soften the initial “boom” from which imminent sellers say they hope to benefit.

Meanwhile, a growing number of aspiring buyers feel themselves caught in the lull. They do not blame higher prices and low stock volumes on NATO diplomatic timetable alone but on a combination of property market dynamics.

Meri Karanfilovska, who recently sold her Skopje apartment and now intends to buy a new one, identifies three such dynamics.

First, a shortage of new locations in central Skopje is forcing prices up. Second, the financing of construction projects that previously took 12 months is increasingly drawn out to 18-20 months, due to new regulations that prohibit contractors from selling properties until they are built and receive public certification.

Finally, the rise of retail mortgage lending in Macedonia’s nascent retail banking and finance sector is boosting demand by creating opportunities for individuals and companies to buy properties over 30 or more years which, previously, they would have been asked to buy outright. This also pushes prices upward.

Milosevska says the interest of the foreigners is an increasingly important factor, NATO membership can be expected to impact and signs of institutional stability buoy foreign buyers’ confidence. Greek, British and Slovenian companies are among the most eager, seeking property for tourist, residential and business use.

“The most interested are Slovenians who are looking for good locations. They buy apartments in Ohrid without any hesitation, good locations with lake views, and price is not a barrier. They have high standards,” Milosevska says.

Victor Mizo, director of Macedonia’s state agency for promoting foreign investment, says demand for commercial property is high, but he warns against excessively optimistic expectations in the residential market.

“If someone can buy a similar weekend house in Bulgaria at lower price, we should not expect a sharp rise in the price of a square meter and foreigners wasting money just to buy property in Macedonia,” he says.

“Real estate prices in southeast Europe have undergone dramatic changes in the past two to three years. In Bulgaria, Croatia and Montenegro, especially the coastal regions, some of the properties were overrated,” Mizo adds.

If so, one result may be greater caution among foreign buyers. Nonetheless, Mizo argues that liberalisation of law on foreign land ownership will boost the positive price trend, and he is joined by Ivanovski, the university economist, in predicting that prices will initially soar if Macedonia gains NATO membership.

If nothing else, entry to the alliance would be suggestive of basic stability and security. In Macedonia, rarely has anything been more valuable.

Debt collection agency legality and ethics questioned in Macedonia

Due to the notorious inefficiency of the courts and the judicial system in Macedonia, some firms are seeking assistance from collection agencies when they are unable to collect debts from private citizens. While proprietary law experts believe debt collection is a "racket" that is questionable legally and ethically, the agencies claim they adhere to the law for obligatory relations, which regulates issues regarding contracts.

According to collection agency officials, the moment the debtor starts a telephone conversation, he is consenting to negotiate. Debtors, however, are disturbed by the pressure tactics and incessant, strategically timed calls. "Agents call early mornings on weekends, when they are sure we are home, but asleep," said 48-year-old Blagoja Stojanovski, a married father of three.

"They introduce themselves only by name and if we aren't at home, they ask our children for our mobile phone numbers. They even ask them where we work. I believe it's child maltreatment and coercive extortion of private information," he said.

Central heating provider Skopje-Sever Director Dragan Mekanigiev has used collection agencies when clients have not paid their bills. "We have hired two debt collection agencies for certain periods of time and paid them based on their success rate," he said.

"We had complaints from our customers who owed money, but the agents' conduct is probably acceptable," Mekanigiev said. "I’m not familiar with the code of conduct of these agencies, but they do have a certain time frame of when they can call debtors and how they are supposed to communicate with them. I believe they do their best to maintain the reputation of their agency."

The legal implications of such practices remain unclear, because harassment is punishable by law. Possibly of greater interest to companies who might use the agencies is the fact that these practices have questionable results.

"Collection must go through legal channels if the debt is not paid. It's an obligatory relationship between the debtor and the vendor," University American College Skopje professor Zvonimir Jankulovski said.

"It remains unclear under what law one could say racketeering is being used against these citizens," Jankulovski said. "The legal basis for companies to hire such agencies and the method for calculating the collection fee for these agencies is also vague."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Macedonia works towards NATO membership

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski attended a North Atlantic Council meeting in Brussels and reported on Macedonia's reform progress Wednesday (January 23rd). After the meeting, he confirmed that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and others welcomed the news.

"The NATO ambassadors congratulated Macedonia on the reforms in its judiciary, Ohrid Accord implementation, economic progress, fight against crime and corruption, as well as its political dialogue," Gruevski said.

"No decision has been made and reforms have to continue. It is very important to keep the pace, to press your foot on the accelerator so the reforms become irreversible," de Hoop Scheffer said. "It is important that there is the right political culture regarding the way political parties, government and opposition relate to each other. There are no tickets punched yet," he added.

Late last year, Gruevski said in an interview in the Vecer daily he was confident that Macedonia would receive an invitation to NATO membership at the April summit in Bucharest because it had fulfilled tent of 12 preconditions set by high-level NATO representatives.

A NATO assessment confirms that Macedonia has met almost all of the conditions of its action plan. For example, internal conflicts have been resolved, resulting in outcomes such as the election of the final member of the Republic Judiciary Council, rendering the high-level judicial body fully functional.

Additional progress includes the establishment of an appellate court, the adoption of laws and measures to protect classified material and data, and the election of new local police commanders in most municipalities. Furthermore, officials continue to fight organised crime and corruption. The country has jumped ahead 21 positions on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Macedonia's name dispute with Greece was also addressed at the North Atlantic Council meeting. According to the Macedonian news agency MIA, officials concluded that the UN negotiations process, led by envoy Matthew Nimetz, should be intensified.

Macedonian leaders worry that the issue could pose a stumbling block to NATO entry. Although the Alliance has not said a settlement is a precondition for membership, Greece could use its veto power to block its northern neighbour's bid.

"I would like to emphasise that the problem is not easy. Certainly, we'll intensify the efforts in settling this 17-year-old problem," Gruevski said. "If the problem were easy, it would have been resolved by now."

While remaining upbeat about the likelihood of receiving an invitation, Gruevski considered the other scenario. "Should we not get an invitation, the country will remain stable but will face more economic challenges. Some extremist groups might be encouraged and start making trouble, but we will eliminate such problems quickly."

"It would still be best for Macedonia if we received an invitation," he added.

Macedonia to receive $280 million from World Bank in next four years

Macedonia and the World Bank have reached an agreement on launching four new projects in a total amount of $175 million over the course of 2008.
- This is made possible with the promotion of Macedonia in World Bank's top scenario, which envisages the country to be granted several funds. The biggest project will include the construction of local and regional freeways in amount of $100 million, thus being the biggest investment in Macedonia's history regarding regional and local infrastructure. $25 million each are envisaged for the projects involving conditional cash transfers, developing polices and reinforcement of municipality's capacities, stated Vice Prime Minister Zoran Stavreski following Monday's meeting with Jane Armitage, World Bank Director and Southeast Europe Coordinator who's paying a visit to Macedonia.

Elaborating the projects, Stavreski said the project on conditional cash transfers encompassed cash support for the Macedonian families receiving public welfare for sending their children in high school within the first stage. The second one will also envisage cash support for regular health check-ups for children.

- World Bank's board of directors is expected to approve the loan by late May. In 2009 projects will be developed with the World Bank for the improvement of energy sector, said the Vice PM.

World Bank Director Armitage said that loans in amount of $220 million, with a possibility to be increased with additional $60 million, were projected for Macedonia in the coming 4-year period.

- Macedonia is ranked by the World Bank amongst the 10 best countries in terms of investment climate and business environment. The World Bank is willing to support Macedonia towards speedy accession to EU, but it is mainly focused on assisting the country to create new jobs, hence reducing poverty, by improving the investment climate, Armitage stressed.

Macedonia Challenges Fake Diplomas

Forged university diplomas from neighbouring Bulgaria are the most popular among Macedonians who want to get a prestigious job without proper qualifications.

According to Macedonia’s Education Ministry, fake diplomas from Albanian institutions are in second place.

A total of 122 forged degree certificates have been detected in the last five years, the ministry’s figures show.

Of them, 66 are from Bulgarian universities, 54 from Albania and just two from Serbia.

The latest scandal relating to forged diplomas erupted on Thursday when police expressed suspicions about the qualifications of a top official in the Ministry of Defence.

After checking with Interpol, the police said that State Secretary Liljana Steriovska’s diploma from the University of Belgrade was a forgery.

Steriovska denied the allegation, and her party leader, Tito Petkovski from the New Social Democrats, said the claim was politically-motivated.

No fake diplomas from Macedonia’s own universities have been discovered so far.

EU Benchmarks for Macedonia

Fulfilment of eight EU conditions by August will be crucial if Macedonia wants to get a date for starting accession talks with the EU before the end of the year, according to officials in Brussels.

A constructive political dialogue, an effective enforcement of the new police law, the political independence of the public administration and an improvement of the business climate are some of the areas in which Skopje needs to make progress, Macedonian media reported on Monday, quoting unnamed EU officials.

The other criteria set for improvement include the speeding up of property registration, the strengthening of the judiciary’s independence, the implementation in a sustainable way of anti-corruption legislation and creating conditions for the employment of the young.

On January 18 the EU Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn, announced that he was planning to issue a list of benchmarks for Macedonia. Read more at

“There is nothing new or unachievable in them,” Rehn said during his meeting in Brussels with Macedonia’s Premier Nikola Gruevski, on Wednesday.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, confirmed to Gruevski on the same day that the benchmarks would be presented to Skopje in March.

Macedonia has formally been an EU candidate for membership since December 2005.

In 2007 Skopje missed an opportunity to get a starting date for EU talks, following criticism from Brussels for its constant inter-party quarrels that had stalled the crucial reform process.

Reform resumed in parliament in December after the leaders of the main political parties agreed on several key issues, required by the EU as a sign of progress

Cop killer dies during arrest

SKOPJE -- Naser Nebija, a suspect in the murder of a Macedonian policeman, was killed yesterday.

Nebija's house in the village of Archinovo, near the capital of Skopje, was surrounded by Macedonian police who attempted to arrest him when the suspect opened fire at officers.

They returned fire shooting and killing him, MIA news agency reported today.

Nebija, who escaped Idrizovo prison in September 2006, was suspected of murdering a member of Macedonian special police force, Zoran Markovski, on January 3 this year in Skopje.

Three policemen were also wounded in the attack.

Nebija served a ten-year sentence in Idrizovo after he was found guilty of rape. Previously, he was a suspect in a number of robbery cases.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Macedonia's trade deficit hits $1.6 billion

Macedonia's foreign trade balance marked a $1.6 billion deficit from January to November 2007, according to latest data released by State Statistical Office.

The State Statistical Office said the deficit soared 36.4 percent comparing with the same period in 2006.

The widening deficit was prompted by the increase in overall commodity international trade scope, Statistical Office said.

The volume of commodities exchange stands at $7.7 billion. The country's imports comprise $3.04 billion and exports comprise $4.6 billion. Exports' share stands at 40 percent and imports make up 60 percent. Export-import coverage totals 65.4%.

As regards the overall commodity international trade scope, the trade deficit accounts 20.9% in 2007, comparing to 21% in the same period in 2006.

Eleftheros Typos: Macedonia entrenches its constitutional name

Macedonia has further entrenched its position to preserve its constitutional name at any price, Greek daily Eleftheros Typos said.

In the headline Triple Deadlock, the paper says Slovenia's EU presidency does not show understanding on Greek stands, and Ankara blames Greek authorities over the deaths of illegal immigrants in the Aegean Sea.

The paper says the prime minister and the president of Macedonia shared the view that Greece's veto threats are real, but inspire all, Skopje won't agree to a composite name.

Just a few days away of meeting of negotiators of both countries and the UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, to be held in Ohrid by the end of the month, Macedonian top officials made it clear that a double name formula is the only possible solution - international use of the constitutional name of the republic and another name to be used in communications with Greece.

Meanwhile, Slovenia's presidency of the European Union is reviewing the allies' intent, i.e. to give Macedonia a starting date for EU accession talks, disregarding Greece's feelings, Eleftheros Typos said.

The paper further adds that Greek-Turkish relations are not moving in the right direction.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Macedonia's Report Card - 10 Things that Could Go Wrong

Like Blanche Dubois in "Streetcar Named Desire", Macedonians now prefer fantasy over harsh reality. They lash against anyone who wishes to offset their euphoria with a long, hard look at hazards, real achievements, and true future prospects.

Under the tutelage of the Gruevski government, Macedonia made great strides in a surprisingly short period of time. The government should be lauded and complimented for its energy and initiative and its inordinate ability to transform Macedonia into a modern participant in globalization. The pace and extent of its accomplishments in incredible.

Yet, Macedonia faces 10 risks and the government is doing precious little to confront them:

1. Asset Bubbles

At a multiple of 37, the Macedonian Stock Exchange is a bubble, by any definition of the word.

The Macedonian Stock Exchange, as measured by its MBI-10 index, rose to a record high of close to 10,500 in mid-2007. It has since shed 30% of its gains. This correction, or, rather, rout has its roots is a series of converging factors.

Macedonia benefited from globalization. As its informal economy emerged from the shadows, capital controls were lifted, capital mobility increased, and foreign firms and investors entered the scene. The more the business climate improved, the better Macedonia's prospects appeared, the higher Macedonian stocks were valued by an euphoric public. Macedonia's professionals did nothing to restrain the hysteria or to ameliorate the casino mentality that pervaded the entire system. They benefited personally from the bubble.

The newfound optimism of Macedonia led to a repricing of risk and to heightened expectations of corporate profits, boosted by a more lenient tax regime and by decreasing interest rates. Equity risk premium plummeted until it vanished altogether and even became negative. The P/E multiple reached a stratospheric 50 before the recent correction. It is still pegged at an unsustainable 37.

Throughout this Bacchanalia, foreigners flocked into the Macedonian Stock Exchange, constituting 30-40% of the buy side. But they have begun to withdraw owing to big privatizations back home, troubles in their domestic financial systems, a more restrictive monetary policy in some countries, and the changing fortunes of the Macedonian marketplace.

The down trend in the Macedonian Stock Exchange is not a mere correction. It is a repricing of assets. It still has a long way to go. Even at 4300 - the next massive technical support - Macedonian shares are inanely overvalued.

Similarly, real estate prices are stratospheric, but this can be justified by the lack of reliable, scandal-free supply and the underdeveloped market for mortgages and real estate leasing.

Should one or both bubble burst, the adverse effects on consumption are likely to be noticeable.

2. Credit Bubble

In December 2007, holiday spending in Macedonia surged 100 million euros to 350 million euros. Most of the increase was financed with credits, as were the purchases of shares on the stock exchange, cars, and housing. High interest rates virtually guarantee that many of these loans will go bad. When they do, the government will be called upon to bail out the banking system. In all probability, it will.

3. Trade Deficit

Macedonia's trade deficit now equals 15% of its formal GDP (excluding the informal economy). It is unsustainable. Yet, the more vigorous the economy, the more the country's consumers and businessmen are likely to import. The culprits in engendering this imbalance are an overvalued currency, a hyper-liberalized trade regime, an antiquated and badly-managed industrial sector, and the profligacy of the population.

As long as unilateral transfers (such as remittances) cover the yawning gap in the current account deficit, Macedonia can survive with such irresponsible conduct. But, if the global economy turns sour, Macedonian Gastarbeiter will be forced to return home. This will likely precipitate a currency crisis.

4. Living Standards and Inflation

Inflation in Macedonia is severely under-reported by the government's Bureau of Statistics. Even so, living standards have dived with the rise in energy and food prices. The government doles out wage and pension increases but cannot compete with the global surge in the prices of commodities. Coupled with the aforementioned credit bubble, this is an ominous sign. Macedonia could end up having its own mini-version of the crisis in the USA: bankruptcies, credit crunch, and recession.

5. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

While Macedonia's image and perception as a business destination and the business climate have improved considerably under Gruevski's government, in reality, not much else has changed.

Consider the following numbers, pertaining to Macedonia:

Control of Corruption Indicator, published by the World Bank: 113 (2006) vs. 111 (2007)

Country Credit Rating, published by Institutional investor: 85 (2006) vs. 84 (2007)

Index of Economic Freedom, published by The Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal: 75 (2006) vs. 71 (2007)

Quality of National Business Environment Ranking, issued by the World Economic Forum in its Global Competitiveness Report: 87 out of 121 countries.

Only the World Bank's Doing Business Ranking jumped from 96 (2006) to 75 (2007). Yet, even this indicator hides some unpalatable truths: Macedonia has deteriorated in certain respects. It is more difficult and cumbersome to hire workers, to register property, to obtain credit, to protect investor rights, and to enforce contracts. In any case, this indicator has more to do with public relations, expectations, and psychology, rather than with the hard facts on the ground.

And the hard facts are:

Macedonia is not ready to absorb and accommodate foreign investors and their capital. It still has a long way to go. This government has put the cart before the horses;

The youthful, populist, and inexperienced administration is overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with its obligations towards and promises to foreign investors. Decision-making bottlenecks (especially in the office of Vice-Premier Zoran Stavreski) conspire with red tape and blatant favoritism to render nightmarish both greenfield and brownfield ventures.

In a long-running arbitration, the country was slapped with multimillion dollar damages payable to the Greek investors in Okta. This did not deter the government from conflicting vocally and publicly with Macedonia's other large investor, the Austrian EVN, owner of the electricity utility;

To its credit, the government has reformed the tax system, introduced a flat tax, and reduced the tax rates, all laudable. But it is still illegal for foreigners to own land and real estate (as individuals) and all but impossible to trade in the local stock exchange. The government has only now resorted to tackling these archaic limitations;

The country is dysfunctional. No institution works properly: the cadastre, the courts, law enforcement agencies, the civil service are all in chaotic disarray. Even the banking system, despite a decade of FDI, is rudimentary. Infrastructure of all sorts is dismal, though improving. The government's anti-corruption drive is much lauded but highly politicized and one-sided, aimed as it is exclusively at the hapless politicians of the opposition. Macedonia's laws are not geared to welcome and assimilate foreign investment, foreigner businessmen, and foreign workers;

Macedonia lacks skilled manpower. The education deficit is pervasive. More than half the adult population has eight years of schooling or less. A multi-generational brain drain saps the country's vitality and prospects in the global information economy of the 21st century. Contrary to the government's claims in its "Invest in Macedonia" campaign, costs and taxes associated with wages are among the highest in the world.

The country suffers from other problems: a huge informal economy, skyrocketing consumer and enterprise indebtedness, ominous asset bubbles in both the stock exchange and the real estate market, a crippled middle class and crippling poverty and unemployment rates, an unmanageable and increasing trade deficit (c. 15% of GDP), and a whopping current account deficit offset only by remittances from Macedonian workers abroad. The global credit crunch constitutes a major threat to polities with such precarious finances.

Despite a slew of expensive PR and advertising campaigns; the appointments of two ministers and the formation of a special agency to deal with FDI; incessant trips abroad by every functionary, from the prime minister down; and innovative marketing initiatives - FDI figures for 2007, at c. 180 million USD (c. 3% of GDP), are a major disappointment. Moreover, a sizable part of Macedonia's FDI is in construction, retail, financial services, and trade, economic sectors with minimal contribution to future growth.

In comparison, FDI doubled in decrepit, post-bellum Serbia, to 4.5 billion USD in 2006. Croatia garnered 3.6 billion USD (2.7 billion euro) - twice the 2005 figure. Even strife-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, under a EU peacekeeping mission, attracted 2.9 billion USD (2 billion euros). Bulgaria absorbed 6.5 billion USD. FDI amounted to 10% of Balkan GDP in 2006.

The conclusion is inescapable: Macedonia has failed in its bid to attract FDI. This is not the first time that Macedonian politicians and their downtrodden and destitute people prefer the fantasy of foreign saviors to the hard slog of painful and much-needed reforms at home. The current prime minister, Gruevski, served in the government of Ljubco Georgievski, whose nostrum and panacea to Macedonia's economic woes was dollops of money, supposed to be funneled via illusive Taiwanese investors. The person most identified with this policy, Vasil Tupurkovski, now faces criminal charges.

Gruevski can learn many lessons from the debacles wrought by his predecessors. It is not too late to get his priorities straight: reforms, education, domestic investment, and employment first, and only then an open invitation to foreigners to come and invest in Macedonia.

6. Geopolitical Risks

Geopolitical instability (in Kosovo) is exacerbated by the current Macedonian regime's jingoism, its overt and manipulative religiosity, and greenhorn fickleness. Within the last year, Macedonia has considerably retarded its chances to enter NATO and the European Union (EU), having clashed unnecessarily and spectacularly with Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the Albanian minority at home.

7. Unemployment

The government's obsession with FDI as the solution for Macedonia's unemployment precluded a reasoned and coordinated effort to tackle unemployment head-on, especially by encouraging domestic investment. To this very day, the government has failed to come with a plan on how to fight unemployment in the short to medium term.

Consequently, unemployment has remained largely the same, at 35%. In certain sectors - such as mining and manufacturing - it even went up (by a whopping 8%, compared to 2005).

The government's concurrent attempts to fight the informal economy have the unfortunate effect of removing the only effective social safety net and source of income available to the unemployed.

8. Education

As is its habit in all other fields, the government is more concerned with grandiose schemes (computer for every child) than with the mundane and dreary reality of education in Macedonia: lack of infrastructure, no teaching cadre, no supportive social services (day care, for instance), or cultural ambience (the education of girls is still controversial in certain segments of Macedonian society).

The government is attempting to respond to the perceived needs of foreign investors by teaching skills to young and older alike. This is a step in the right direction. But, carried out in a vacuum of other policy measures, it is bound to backfire and end in a brain drain or in deep and lasting frustration.

9. Agriculture

Instead of acknowledging that Macedonia's agriculture is non-competitive for a variety of reasons, the government keeps pouring tens of millions of scarce euros into dying crops (tobacco, for instance). The solution is, of course, to scrap the entire Macedonian agriculture, retrain the farmers and embark on a bold plan to reorient the sector to off-season vegetables and flowers, high-value crops, organic produce, and bioengineering.

10. Over-taxation

When a government in a country as destitute as Macedonia wastes its money on the early repayment of debts to International Financial Institutions and ends up with a surplus in its central budget, its policies are wrong and constrictive. Rather than promote growth, the government is over-taxing. This leads to an inefficient allocation of resources. Rather than invest, the government increases wages in the public sector, augments pensions, and showers subsidies on dying sectors.

Paradoxically, such colossal waste is bound to end up in a demonetization and contraction of the economy as the private sector gives up its futile attempt to compete with the largesse of the government and as businesses are rendered rent-seekers.


The Gruevski government is business-friendly and growth-oriented. It is truly reformist. However, its policies of benign neglect and over-reliance on foreigners and their money as a nostrum and panacea threaten Macedonia with stagflation: inflation coupled with recession, increasing unemployment and negative growth.

Police search for gunmen in Avtokomanda shooting

The gunmen who killed a policeman and injured two other policemen are still at large, police sources told Makfax news agency on Friday.

"The police pressed ahead with a thorough investigation, but so far there are no new information," Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said.

The police believe that the car they have recovered late Thursday was used hours before in the attack. The car was found just outside the village of Aracinovo. The police found two automatic rifles, one heavy machine-gun, one hand-mortar and several shells of firearms, as they scoured the car for clues. The car had fake license plates.

Late on Thursday, gunmen ambushed police vehicle, carrying members of special police unit Tigers, in Skopje's district Avtokomanda. The attack left three policemen injured. One of them died on the way to hospital.

Policeman Markovski killed in drive-by shooting

Ministry of Interior announced Friday that the policeman, who was killed in yesterday's attack on police vehicle carrying members of special police unit Tigers, has been identified as 40-year-old Zoran Markovski.

The gunmen opened fire on police patrol jeep Land Rover from a moving civilian vehicle and then fled the scene. The shooting took place near petrol station Makpetrol in Skopje's district Avtokomanda on Thursday afternoon.

The attack left three policemen injured. Markovski died on the way to hospital.

The police believe that the car they have recovered late Thursday - Opel Vectra - was used by gunmen. The car was found just outside the village of Aracinovo. The police found two automatic rifles, one heavy machine-gun, one hand-mortar and several shells of firearms, as they scoured the car for clues. The car had fake license plates.

Police sources told Makfax news agency that the gunmen are still on the run.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Macedonia military helicopter crashes; no survivors

BLACE, Macedonia (Reuters) - A Macedonian military helicopter transporting soldiers home from Bosnia crashed near a village south of Skopje on Saturday, killing up to 11 passengers and crew, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said.

He said the cause of the crash in the Katlanovo region was not known, but described it as an accident.

"According to preliminary reports, 11 people were on their way from Bosnia," he told reporters at the crash site. "So far, seven bodies have been identified."

Rescue officials said there were no survivors.

A Reuters photographer said the helicopter was completely destroyed, scattering debris up to 100 metres from the site.

The helicopter, which Macedonian media reports said was an Mi-17 transport helicopter, was returning Macedonian soldiers from European Union-led peackeeping operations in Bosnia.

Macedonia's military helicopter fleet is mostly made up of Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters and Mi-17s, bought in 2001 during an ethnic Albanian guerrilla insurgency.

11 Dead in Macedonia Helicopter Crash

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — A Macedonian Army helicopter returning from a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia crashed Saturday in foggy conditions, killing all 11 people on board, the Defense Ministry said.

The MI-17 helicopter crashed around noon about 15 miles southeast of the capital, Skopje, minutes before it was to land. Villagers nearby heard two explosions.

The helicopter was returning from Bosnia, where Macedonia contributes 30 troops to a peacekeeping mission. It was the deadliest ever accident for the Macedonian air force.

"This is a terrible accident and a big tragedy. My condolences go to the families of the soldiers," Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said.

The government established a special body to investigate the cause of the accident.

The Chief of the Army, Gen. Miroslav Stojanovski, told the government the helicopter was serviced regularly and operated by professional pilots.

Friday, January 04, 2008

More than 30 villages in Macedonia have no power grid

More than 30 villages in Macedonia have no power grid, the Macedonian daily Vest reports. Electricity is expected to be brought to eight of these in 2008. The rest undergo research to estimate if a power grid can be constructed at all there. According to a program of the country’s Ministry of Economy, adopted yesterday by the Government, 30 Million denars have been allotted from the country’s budget.

Macedonian elite police officer shot dead

A member of an elite Macedonian police unit was killed and two others were wounded when their car was shot at in the capital Skopje on Thursday, police said.

"Attackers opened fire from a moving vehicle at the police jeep," said police spokesman Ivo Kotevski. "Three officers were wounded, and one of them died on his way to hospital."

Kotevski said the motive for the attack in a Skopje suburb was unknown.

Tensions remain in Macedonia in the wake of a 2001 insurgency by ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting for greater rights for the country's 25 percent Albanian minority.

Organised crime is also rife in the former Yugoslav republic.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Tito, Teto and Some Troubled Tourism Await You in Tetovo, Macedonia

Legend says that Tetovo was named after the mythical Teto, who cleared snakes from what was a village at the foot of the Šar Mountain many centuries ago. But perhaps this fable alone won't persuade you to leave the Skopje to Ohrid highway and visit this city in northwest Macedonia close to the border with Kosovo. Indeed, Tetovo has hardly been a magnet for travellers. For a long time the only tourists near here were those en route to Macedonia's most famous ski resort, Popova Šapka.

Unfortunately, to most outsiders, Tetovo is not renowned for its skiing facilities. Rather, it has a more forbidding reputation. It is the scene of the Albanian separatist National Liberation Army's (NLA) fierce clashes with Macedonian security forces in the 2001 conflict.

But the Albanian minority's unofficial capital, at one time part of the Ottoman Empire, as well as belonging to Serbia, Great Albania and Yugoslavia – and also the refuge for a considerable number of tsarist officers after the Russian Revolution – offers a pleasant and friendly surprise.

Tetovo's central square is not exactly enticing. It has the usual combination of broken pavements and dilapidated monuments, relics of the Communist era under Marshal Tito, the former Yugoslavian leader who tried to steer his own path between East and West.

Tito's buildings are of an architectural style designed to prove the superiority of his brand of Communism over Todor Zhivkov's. Just don't expect any earth-shattering contrast to Bulgaria!

But don't give up on Tetovo just yet. Turn left into Ilindenska Street and reach the humpback stone bridge over the Pena River. There you will see, rising on the other side of the river, a building that can rightfully claim to be the world's most colourful mosque. And the interior is just as striking as its façade.

The walls of the Aladzha Mosque, also known as Šarena Dzamija, or the “Painted” Mosque, are covered with geometrical shapes in green, blue, ochre and red – a truly delightful sight. And, thankfully, the building forms just part of a brighter enclave in an otherwise drab location.

Surrounding the mosque is a small park with well-maintained rosebushes and towering trees that provide a welcome contrast to the neglected central square. The Pena River babbles at its side and an abandoned Turkish bath cuts across it, part of an old complex of inns around the mosque.

Until fairly recently it housed a restaurant that went by the rather pretentious name of “Sheraton”. The octagonal turbe, or tomb, with the remains of Hurshida and Mensure, the women who founded the complex (the first building was finished in 1459), is right in front of the mosque.

“Do you like it? They used 30,000 eggs to make the paint.” A friendly young schoolgirl from the building's top-floor religious school approached us inside the mosque to practise her English. But most children are shy and only speak Albanian, the second official tongue in the Macedonian Republic since 2002.

The addition of the second language stemmed from provisions in the peace treaty that ended the conflict. Under its terms any language spoken by more than 20 percent of the population became, like Macedonian, an official state language. The Albanians, numbering just over 25 percent, are the only group eligible. But tolerance of another tongue has failed to dissolve simmering tensions. Since the republic split from Yugoslavia after a 1991 referendum, relations between Tetovo's two largest ethnic groups have been precariously poised between peace and war.

The South East European University was part of the problem. Established illegally in several houses in the nearby village of Mala Rechica, it became the country's first institution to teach students in Albanian. Legalised in 2001, it now has its own web page and is a rival to Tetovo State University.

But the Bektashi monks in the nearby Harabati Baba Tekke, a Dervish lodge, have a long history of hardship. Situated outside the city, by the large new cemetery at the foot of Popova Šapka, the monastery has a conspicuous three-storey, ultramarine-painted tower. The monks claim the tower was the last home of a high-ranking Albanian named Roxalana, who died of tuberculosis there. According to a more popular theory, it was part of the monastery's defence system, founded in the 16th Century.

The tower could not protect the tekke either from being burnt by guerrillas in 1948 or from Yugoslavia's Communists, who banned its religious activities and converted it from a haven of meditation into a tourist complex comprising a hotel, restaurant and disco. In those years – ironically, the Macedonian Communist Party was founded in 1943 in Tetovo – the monastery was silent proof of the legend explaining its unofficial name, Sersem Tekke, or the Fool's Tekke.

The story, recounted by present-day Bektashi monks with suitable self-irony, relates to a dream of Ali Baba, one of Suleiman the Magnificent's most esteemed high officials. The vision of this highly respected Bektashi leader in the Ottoman Empire was so inspiring that Ali Baba decided to abandon secular life and devote himself to religious contemplation. Angered but powerless, Suleiman told his vizier: “If you will be a sersem (fool), then go.” Ali Baba settled in Tetovo, which was practically unknown at the time, and became popular as Sersem Baba. Officially, the monastery is named after Harabati Baba, the only disciple of the former vizier, who took over the institution after Ali Baba's death in 1569.

While strolling in the large monastery garden or looking at the old stones in its cemetery, you may decide that Ali Baba was a sensible man rather than a sersem. The complex, whose main buildings were constructed in the 18th Century, became the focal point for the Bektashi living in this part of the Balkan Peninsula and survived even though Atatürk banned the order in its native Turkey in 1922. According to some estimates, nearly a quarter of Muslims here belonged to this denomination at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Despite Communist persecution, the tekke quickly restored its initial activities in 1995 following an initiative by Baba Tahir Emini. Today, there are 10 to 15 Bektashi monks living there. “We just want peace and privacy. So we don't advertise ourselves and we try not to attract tourists,” one of them tells us. But sit with them under the shed – decorated with portraits of Imam Ali, the reverse clocks and pictures from Baba Tahir Emini's funeral some months ago – and the monks can be very hospitable.

Gradually, more tourists are coming. Ironically, they're attracted not by the fêted Popova Šapka, or Priest's Hat, named after an Orthodox monk's headgear, but by the religious order and its monuments that were forbidden until just a few years ago.

Macedonian deputy interior ministry resigns

Skopje. Macedonian Deputy Minister of Interior Refet Elmazi has resigned, the Macedonian television A1 informed.
The Democratic Party of Albanians /DPA/ confirmed the information. Elmazi was close to the DPA leader Menduh Taci. Officially, the reasons for the resignation are personal, while according to informal information Elmazi has had bad relations with senior police officials for a long time.

KFOR commander doesn't expect conflicts

KFOR Commander, French General Xavier Bout de Marnac, on Thursday in Skopje said that Kosovo situation is stable and no conflicts are expected.

"I don't expect any conflicts, I think that all factors have good will for overcoming misunderstandings", general De Marnac said after the meeting with Macedonian defense minister Lazar Elenovski, Macedonian Television reported.

The commander of NATO forces said that KFOR is fully dedicated to ensuring stability and security of all Kosovo citizens.

Minister Elenovski and general De Marnac agreed that the situation in the region is stable.

"The security situation is stable, political tensions are completely different thing", minister Elenovski said.

Greece/Macedonia issue cries for a solution

Following a Greek threat to veto the admission of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) into Nato, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz announced new, intensified negotiations between the two sides to settle the nearly 20-year-old Fyrom name dispute. The talks will be based on a set of ideas Nimetz presented to the two sides on November 1, which apparently include that Fyrom use another name internationally other than its constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia.

Nimetz mentioned Kosovo in enumerating the benefits of resolving the name dispute, many of which are routinely cited by Greek diplomacy in calling on Skopje to compromise.

"There are some international issues that cannot be solved, but this is one that cries out for a solution because the positives of solving it are so great. Excellent relations between the two neighbours can be achieved, a much better economic relationship and much more economic development. The Nato and EU process [Fyrom's membership applications] would be enhanced. Stability in light of what's happening in Kosovo and other areas of the region would be enhanced," the American diplomat said after talks with Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Athens on December 5.

"If it's not resolved, [there is] constant irritation, constant bickering and all sorts of disputes are created," Nimetz said.

While the envoy said he is not working on a timetable, he stressed the benefits of moving quickly. "The reality of the situation, the statements made, and the processes of Nato, the Kosovo situation and the EU process all in my mind lead to the conclusion that dealing with this in the shorter term rather than the longer term is very advantageous to everyone," Nimetz said.

Fyrom Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki is to host talks between Greek negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis and Fyrom counterpart Nikola Dimitrov in Skopje in January. If that goes well, Bakoyannis will host a second round in Athens soon thereafter.

Nimetz confirmed that ideas about a possible name were floated during his talks in Skopje and Athens, but no details were made public. "If the dispute is about the name, you've got to talk about the name," he said.

Fyrom Premier Nikola Gruevski began the process with a hard line, rejecting any possibility of changing his country's name internationally one day after Nimetz presented his initial suggestions to the parties on November 1 in New York. Skopje has so far insisted it is prepared to allow only Greece to call it something different.

Greece insists that a solution must rest on a composite name, possibly including a geographic marker. Nimetz's last specific proposal in 2005 was Republika Makedonije-Skopje, which was rejected by Fyrom.

At the same time, Greek diplomacy appears to be making its first, bold moves to sway public opinion in Fyrom, which is largely against changing the country's constitutional name, especially since over 100 countries have recognised it as "Republic of Macedonia".

In a December 2 interview with the Skopje newspaper Utrinski Vesnik, Bakoyannis said that Greece approaches negotiations in a spirit of good faith and underlined the economic and political advantages of a settlement. She also stressed that Skopje, under a 1995 interim agreement that gave the country the awkward name of Fyrom internationally, has undertaken to work toward a name settlement.

Asked by the Athens News if the two sides still stand by the interim agreement, Nimetz, who helped draft the accord, was emphatic.

"I haven't heard anyone on either side say they don't respect the interim agreement. The agreement has a lot of provisions in it, and whether people observe it or not is a matter of interpretation," he said.

Greece has threatened to veto Fyrom's Nato entry, despite the fact that the accord allows Skopje to enter international organisations as Fyrom, saying that Skopje has breached key parts of the accord, including the requirement to work toward a name settlement and refrain from propaganda at the other party's expense.

"I think there is a great interest internationally in getting the issue solved. I have spoken to other governments - the US and different countries - and there is a heightened desire by everyone to get a solution," Nimetz said.

Italy supports Macedonia's EU, NATO bids

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi met with his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Gruevski, on Sunday (December 9th) on the sidelines of the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon. Gruevski, who is in Lisbon as part of a diplomatic effort to support Macedonia's NATO bid, also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU security chief Javier Solana, Finnish President Tarja Halonen and other senior officials.

China continuously supports Macedonia's constitutional name

The People's Republic of China has principle position, which is included in the signed joint declaration, with regard to resuming to support the position of Macedonia in terms of preserving its constitutional name in international use, stated Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski in Beijing following the meetings with China's top officials. - The relationship between Macedonia and China has always been at high level, whereas this visit and joint statement signed by Chinese President Hu Jintao gives new, profound dimension, underlying the countries' intention to make additional efforts towards strengthening the bilateral cooperation in the future, the President said.

The meetings held with Chinese top officials, according to Crvenkovski, focused on determining the opportunities for intensification of bilateral ties.

- For Macedonia the economic cooperation is of significant interest. So far, it was characterised by import of Chinese products on the Macedonian market. This visit opened opportunities for Macedonian firms to place their products on the market of China with additional assistance by Chinese institutions, added Crvenkovski.

The meetings also aimed at discussing the possibility for Chinese investments in Macedonia, as well as the efforts made in the country towards establishing favourable ambient for foreign investments.

- We also discussed about the opportunities for reinforcement of cooperation in the field of education, health system, culture, agriculture as well as exchange of technological experiences, stated President Crvenkovski, who is paying an official visit to PR China.

What's in a name? For Macedonia, NATO and EU membership

It seems hard to imagine that this is a real diplomatic crisis in a world with Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela and Russia... but there it is. Greece is threatening to block NATO and EU membership if “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" also known as Macedonia, changes its name so it's not the same as a province in Greece.

Greece and Macedonia will hold talks under United Nations supervision in January to solve a long-standing name dispute between the neighbours and boost stability in the Balkans, a U.N. envoy said on Wednesday.
Macedonia took that name when it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Athens objects because it is also the name of a Greek province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

UN envoy Matthew Nimetz , on a diplomatic trip to both capitals, said the dispute could be settled because of the positive fallout for all sides. Talks have been going on since 1993 with little progress.
“This is one that cries out for a solution because the positives of solving it are so great,” he told reporters in Athens after meeting Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni.

EU will prevent spillover of violence into Macedonia

The European Union (EU) will do everything to avoid any kind of spillover of eventual violence in Kosovo or in the neighborhood to Macedonia.

The special representative of Portugal EU presidency Antonio Tanger Correa in an interview for the "Euro Zoom" TV show.

"Macedonia is a country with certain fragility in its composition. It is a very important country and should be preserved, but if there is radicalization in the region, there is risk of transferring that radicalization to Macedonia. We in the EU will do everything to avoid that", Correa said.

He pointed out that there are many problems in the region, such as the final status of Kosovo and the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

"Serbia and BiH are key countries in the region. If there is instability in these two countries, than the stability of the region will be in question", Correa said.

The Portuguese diplomat emphasized the importance of EU engagement in finding solution of these issues, because that could endanger the stability of a region that is part of Europe.

According to him, EU wants the final status of Kosovo to be solved with a resolution of the UN Security Council, but if that can not be done, "Europe will take the matters in its own hands and will solve the problem, Correa said.

Athens, Nimetz, agree to hasten name issue talks

Foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and visiting UN special mediator on the FYROM name issue agreed on Wednesday on intensifying and accelerating the UN-brokered negotiations on the issue between Athens and Skopje, during a one-hour meeting at the foreign ministry.

In the framework of the intensification and acceleration of the Athens-Skopje negotiations, it was deemed expedient to hold a meeting in Skopje, hosted by FYROM foreign minister Antonio Milososki, with the participation of the Greek and FYROM negotiators ambassadors Adamantios Vassilakis and Nikola Dimitrov, respectively, with the prospect of a follow-up meeting in Athens hosted by Greek foreign minister Bakoyannis, Nimetz announced after the meeting.

Greek foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos later confirmed the information.

Koumoutsakos said that the continuation and intensification of the talks meant that FYROM has not rejected Nimetz's package of ideas as a basis for the negotiation, and clarified that during Wednesday's meeting between Nimetz and Bakoyannis, which he said was held in a "very good climate", the two officials reviewed the developments in the name issue since the November 1 commencement of the new round of talks meadiated by Nimetz.

"We clarified 'where we are'," Koumoutsakos said.

The Greek side stressed that the negotiation had a timeline up to the day when FYROM will prospectively receive an invitation to join NATO, Koumoutsakos said, whereas Nimetz said that his mission does not have a specific timetable, but that all the developments in the region, such as those concerning the future status of Kosovo and NATO enlargement, were leading to an acceleration of the procedures for settlement of the outstanding issue with FYROM as well.

Nimetz further noted that there was great interest on the part of both sides for finding a solution, and that the "key" continued to be the name issue.

Regarding the Athens-Skopje interim agreement of 1995, Nimetz said that although he had heard "different interpretations", nevertheless "I did not hear anyone disputing it".

Statue of "Turkish enemy" placed in Macedonian capital elicits protests

Turkish and Muslim community members in the Macedonian capital Skopje are protesting the "inappropriate" placement of a large statue in honor of Macedonian leader Gjergi Kastrioti, who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, trying to block domination of Balkan lands by Turkey.

The statue, whose creation and placement has been funded in part by the Macedonian Ministry of Culture, was placed by Skopje authorities near the entrance to the capital city's historical Turkish Bazaar. Members of the Merhamet Foundation and the local El-Hilal Foundation, most of whom are ethnically Albanian, have said "There are many heroes in Albanian history other than Kastrioti. The placing of this statue commemorating this man who abandoned Islam and who rebelled against the government makes us as uncomfortable as it does our sibling Turkish members of the community. We see the particular placement of this statue, in front of the Turkish market, as an attempt at mischief-making in our community."

Kosovo will declare independence 'very soon,' President Sejdiu says

Kosovo will declare independence from Serbia shortly, President Fatmir Sejdiu said Saturday. He did not, however, name a date.

"At this moment, I cannot define the precise date when Kosovo will proclaim independence, but I can say it will happen very soon," Sejdiu said after talks with Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski.

"For us, there is no alternative to independence," he said.

Although it is formally a part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended a bloody crackdown by Serbian forces on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Talks this week between independence-seeking ethnic Albanians and Serbs bent on keeping the province reached a dead end.

Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians refused to soften their demand for full independence, increasing the likelihood the province will declare statehood unilaterally in the coming months. International mediators overseeing the talks are due to report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Dec. 10.

Crvenkovski said his tiny Balkan state — which has a restless ethnic Albanian minority of its own — would not be the first country to recognize Kosovo's independence.

"The only logical way is that Macedonia, as a candidate member for NATO and the EU, will follow their common policy," he said.

Sejdiu was in Macedonia for a one day visit.

Nicolas Burns wants Skopje to accept compound name for FYRM

Athens. USA Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns openly called the political leaders of FYRM to stop their provocative activities and meet with the Greek side and to accept a compound name for the republic, Greek paper Eleftheros Typos writes today. After his meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyani Burns asked from Skopje to be more tactful with the Greek sensitiveness on the issue. The assistant of Condoleezza Rice expressed his understanding concerning the meaning of the ‘heritage of Macedonia in the Greek hearts’ and the trust in the special UN mediator Matthew Nimitz, who next week will be visiting Skopje and Athens.
According to the diplomatic circles Washington had already clarified its objection concerning the Greek veto and now as it is obvious exerts pressure on Skopje.
The paper informs that in Madrid where Bakoyani is present for the meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) she gave an interview for Spanish paper El Mundo in which she pointed out that Macedonia was a big territory part of which belonged to Greece, another to Bulgaria and still other to Albania.

Cocorovska sentenced to 14,5 years in prison

The Skopje Court sentenced to 14,5 years in prison Stanislava Cocorovska, who was accused of having masterminded smuggling of nearly half a ton of cocaine that was seized by Macedonian border authorities in early 2007.

The Court pronounced identical sentence to Alija Azirovic, the driver of the lorry in which 440 kilograms of cocaine stashed in paint cans were found on 7 January, 2007 at Blace border crossing.

Cocorovska and Azirovic's lawyers announced to appeal the verdict. The defense claimed that their clients were victims of a set-up and that the prosecution failed to sustain the accusation of their involvement with sufficient material evidence.

Cocorovska, who is also a holder of a Serbian citizenship, has been put under custody in the Skopje investigative prison since last May, when Serbia approved her extradition to Macedonia, Azirovic has been under temporary detention since the day of uncovering the drug.

The formal accusation against Cocorovska and Azirovic was raised last May by the Department for fighting organized crime and corruption with the Skopje prosecution office.

The indictment act mentions also two Greek citizens, however, except for Cocorovska and Azirovic, no person has been arrested in relation to the cocaine smuggling case.

The drug was loaded in a Croatian freight boat last year in Venezuela and transported to the
Montenegrin port of Bar. The shipment was en route to Greece when it was seized at the Macedonian border.

Ljube Boskoski

Ljube Boskoski was born on 24 October 1960 in the town of Tetovo in the Republic of Macedonia, then a part of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia.

From May 2001 until November 2002, Ljube Boskoski held the position of Interior Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). He was at that time an influential member of the political party in power, namely the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (“VMRO-DPMNE”).

Between Friday 10 August 2001 and Sunday 12 August 2001, a land offensive was launched by the army and the Macedonian police against Albanian civilians and their private property in the village of Ljuboten. During this attack, which was not justified by any pressing military requirements, several Albanian civilians were arrested, placed in detention, subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment and murdered. Several hundred private dwellings and other private holdings were either partially or totally destroyed (cf. Annex A of the Indictment).

In his capacity as Minister of the Interior, Ljube Boskoski had de jure and de facto command and control over the members of the police forces which took part in the alleged crimes.

He was aware of the crimes which had been committed since he himself was able to ascertain the damages to the belongings and of the cruel treatment inflicted on the people held in detention on Sunday 12 August 2001. Furthermore, he is reported to have had meetings with those who had participated in the attack and to have requested reports from the police.

He neither opened up investigations into the alleged facts, nor did he prosecute or punish those identified as being responsible for the incriminating offences.

Ljube Boskoski was charged on 22 December 2004 together with Johan Tarculovski (see “related cases”) on three counts of violations of the laws and customs of war.

After being detained in Croatia from August 2004, he was transferred to the prison quarters of the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) on 24 March 2005.

Arraigned on the 22 December 2004, Ljube Boskoski was charged on the basis of his superior hierarchical responsibility (Art. 7 § 3 ICTY Statute) on three counts of violations of the laws and customs of war, namely:
- murder;
- wanton destruction of towns and villages;
- cruel treatment.

After being detained in Croatia from August 2004, he was transferred to the prison quarters of the ICTY on 24 March 2005.

At his initial court appearance on 1st April 2005, Ljube Boskoski pleaded not guilty.

The trial began on 16 April 2007.

Together with that of Johan Tarculovski, the case against Ljube Boskoski is the last one under which proceedings will be undertaken by the Prosecutor of the ICTY by virtue of Security Council Resolutions requiring that the Court complete its investigations by the end of 2004. Any further cases will be transmitted to the national jurisdictions.