- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

Macedonia's progress

The United States is praising Macedonia for democratic reform and urging the Balkan nation to hold free and fair elections next month.

"The whole world will be watching to see how Macedonia conducts these elections," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said this week. "We look to Macedonia's leaders to ensure that the elections are fair, free from violence, in conformity with international standards, and that the results are respected."

More than 3,000 candidates from 30 political parties are running in the Sept. 15 election for 120 seats in the Macedonian parliament.

Mr. Reeker said Macedonia "has much to be proud of" since the Aug. 13, 2001, peace accord ended an ethnic Albanian uprising.

"[Macedonias] political leaders and citizens made conscious and courageous decisions to reduce tensions, build bridges between ethnic communities and reinforce the legal framework for the advance of civil society within Macedonia," he added.

However, a new report by the International Crisis Group warns that official corruption and organized crime threaten the very progress that Washington is praising.

Corruption has "evolved from passive exploitation to active coercion and acquired the capacity not only to retard economic progress but also to feed organized crime and, in turn, political and communal instability," the report said. "In effect, the state has come to function in important respects as a 'racket,' while the racketeers thrive in a culture of impunity."

Macedonian Ambassador Nikola Dimitrov yesterday said his government appreciates the State Department's recognition of the progress the country has made since the peace accord.

"It shows the commitment of the Macedonian government and the support of the U.S. government to build peace and democracy in Macedonia, and once again it shows the two governments are partners in bringing peace to the region," he said.

Mr. Dimitrov added that "continued violence by some radical groups" is a threat to the country's stability. He also said the government is well aware that it must tackle corruption.

Mr. Dimitrov disputed the report's observation that corruption is part of Macedonia's "political culture."

"It is dangerous to generalize on the basis of individuals that the nation and its culture are corrupt," he said.

The report noted that the peace accord "cut short a rapidly evolving civil war," but the agreement depends on the development of democratic institutions and a market economy.

"The corruption that eats away at the country" is the fault of both the ethnic Albanian and ethnic Macedonian communities, it added.

"Left to fester and spread, it will continue to erode Macedonia's tenuous unity and send dangerous ripple effects throughout the Western Balkans," the report said.


Case against Aleman

The United States will prosecute former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman if an investigation finds evidence he broke U.S. money-laundering laws, according to U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Oliver Garza.

Mr. Aleman, currently speaker of Nicaragua's legislature, is under investigation by Nicaraguan and Panamanian authorities over suspicions that he illegally laundered $96.7 million of government money into personal accounts while he was president from 1997 until his term ended earlier this year.

"We are hoping that the governments of Nicaragua and Panama will conclude their investigations to determine if he violated U.S. money-laundering laws," Mr. Garza told Agence France-Presse in Managua.

"Obviously it will be the U.S. Attorney's Office that will make the final decision on whether the matter warrants an investigation and a trial."


Envoy lands safely

A plane carrying the U.S. ambassador to Honduras among other passengers made an emergency landing yesterday at a Honduran military base.

Ambassador Frank Almaguer was traveling from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, to Puerto de Trujillo on the Caribbean coast when the pilot reported an undisclosed emergency and requested permission to land at the base in Palmerola, about 40 miles north of the capital, the U.S. Embassy said.

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