- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

Albania's ruling Socialist Party yesterday welcomed this week's agreement between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian rebels, and said U.S. and NATO involvement is essential for the accord to work.
Arben Malaj, majority leader in the Albanian parliament, condemned any acts of violence in Macedonia and said dialogue is the only sensible way of dealing with the problem.
The rebels have been waging an insurgency since February in what they say is a fight for improved rights for the Albanian minority in the former Yugoslav republic.
"The future of the region is not ethnic segregation but economic and political integration," Mr. Malaj said in a telephone interview from Tirana, the Albanian capital. "I don't think any armed undertaking can bring a solution to the crisis."
But in the meantime, he said, the Macedonian government must implement the constitutional reforms outlined in Monday's agreement.
The accord led to NATO's decision Wednesday to deploy allied forces that will collect weapons from rebels, provided fighting stops.
The agreement grants state funding for Albanian higher education and gives the Albanian language limited official status along with Macedonian.
Its terms also includes a guarantee of police jobs for Albanians, based on their proportion in the overall population.
"Equal involvement of Albanians in the political, executive and social spheres cannot be neglected," Mr. Malaj said. "Any other solution would be temporary."
Mr. Malaj is one of three candidates to become Albania's prime minister in internal party elections to be held Monday.
He said the country's June 24 general election to choose members of parliament was a big "step forward," but it also revealed some lapses in administering the vote.
"Many procedures needed to be further detailed and explained to the people," he said. "The strengthening of the still-fragile institutions is an imperative for all political forces of Albania."
The Socialist Party retained its majority with 41 percent of the vote, while the main opposition party, the Union of Victory, won 37 percent.
Fighting widespread crime and corruption and stabilizing the economy will be the top priorities of the new government, Mr. Malaj said. Although Albania has seen economic growth over the past few years, it has yet to become an attractive place for investors.
"Without a significant increase of foreign direct investment, the Albanian economy can't eliminate the risk of going backward," he said.
Tirana should also speed up privatization, he added, noting that the pending privatization of Albania's telecommunications company and its biggest bank "has the potential of bringing increased confidence in the Albanian market and a new volume of foreign investment."
The country's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is another important objective, said Mr. Malaj, who was finance minister in 1997-98.
WTO membership, he said, "will bring about further consolidation of the market-economy institutions in Albania, which are still far from perfect."

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