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Macedonian security forces sit in the back of a truck passing Shemshovo village September 19, 2001 as they withdraw at dusk together with paramilitary from Rataje village, near Tetovo. NATO accused Macedonian security forces of provoking a major ceasefire violation around Zilce and Ratae villages, endangering alliance troops involved in disarming ethnic Albanian guerrillas under a peace accord. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti
A member of the Macedonian security forces sit with a heavy machine gun on the top of a truck passing Shemshovo village September 19, 2001 as they withdraw at dusk together with paramilitary from Rataje village, near Tetovo. NATO accused Macedonian security forces of provoking a major ceasefire violation around Zilce and Ratae villages, endangering alliance troops involved in disarming ethnic Albanian guerrillas under a peace accord. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti
A British soldier directs a U.S. Chinook helicopter during training in the extraction of people and vehicles at the U.S. military base Able Sentry in Petrovec, September 19, 2001. Reassured by plans for a future Western security presence, rebels in Macedonia have told NATO they will turn in their remaining guns although parliament has yet to pass civil rights reforms, alliance sources said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
British soldiers of the Task Force Harvest train at the US camp Able Sentry, 25 kilometers east of Skopje, Wednesday Sept. 19, 2001. The soldiers are part of NATO forces deployed in Macedonia to collect the last batch of weapons of ethnic Albanian rebels of the national Liberation Army on Thursday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
British soldiers of the Task Force Harvest train at the US camp Able Sentry, 25 kilometers, 15 miles, east of Skopje, Macedonia Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2001. The soldiers are part of NATO forces that will collect the last batch of weapons of ethnic Albanian rebels of the national Liberation Army on Thursday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
British soldiers of the Task Force Harvest practice helicopter extraction of equipment at the US camp Able Sentry, 25 kilometers east of Skopje, Wednesday Sept. 19 2001. The soldiers are part of NATO forces deployed in Macedonia to collect the last batch of weapons of ethnic Albanian rebels of the national Liberation Army on Thursday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army stand at a checkpoint outside the rebel stronghold of Sipkovica, Macedonia, Wednesday Sept. 19 2001. The rebels plan to surrender their weapons Thursday to NATO troops according to the peace agreement with the Macedonian government.(AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)
National Liberation Army (NLA) political leader Ali Ahmeti gestures during an interwiew in Sipkovica village, near Tetovo September 19, 2001. Ahmeti told that ethnic Albanian rebels of the NLA will finish disarming without waiting for Macedonia's parliament to start enacting civil rights reforms required by a peace pact. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti
PRIME MINISTER GEORGIEVSKI MEETS BULGARIAN PRESIDENT STOYANOV.
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski met Wednesday Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov during his official visit to Bulgaria.
As MIA's special correspondent reports, Prime Minister Georgievski stressed that the meeting focused on the political security situation in the region i.e. the crisis in Macedonia, pointing out that President Stoyanov carefully followed the situation in Macedonia.
Macedonian Prime Minister Georgievski also expressed his satisfaction from the policy of the Bulgarian President and the current position of the new Government, hoping that it would contribute toward more stable position of Republic of Macedonia, especially after the developments in USA.
Asked about the establishment of Balkan antiterrorist alliance or agreement, Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski said that the initiative was not fully defined yet, but "it might be good to make such agreement within the Initiative for Southeast Europe supported by the European Union and NATO, as the fight against the terrorism became worldwide trend."
Answering the question about the double standard of the west regarding the terrorism in Macedonia, Prime Minister Georgievski decisively said that "this double standard of the international community was more than obvious," and according to him it was even more emphasized after the events in USA. "Unfortunately in the past eight months of the Macedonian crisis we have not seen that the international community made any efforts or was firmly determined to fight against terrorism in Macedonia. Its tolerance contributed towards spreading the terrorism," Georgievski stressed.
Assessing the "Essential Harvest" operation, Georgievski said that the goal set by NATO to collect 3,300 pieces of weapons, has been already accomplished."
"The problem is that the three Macedonian agency has estimated that the terrorists possess between 60 and 80,000 pieces of weapons. This difference provokes our dissatisfaction because after the completion of NATO mission there would be large amount of weapons that can be used for further terror in Macedonia," Prime Minister Georgievski added.
"There is no need to stress that I am always glad when Macedonian President or Prime Minister visit Sofia, as our talks are exceptionally interesting and important. We always try to find common ground that would be of best interest for both countries," Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov stressed. According to him the talks focused on the developments in Macedonia as they had great impact on the entire region including Bulgaria.
"Without any roundabout answers, we decisively support the efforts of the Macedonian Government and of Prime Minister Georgievski for resolving the crisis. The resolution should be based on recognizing the Macedonian territorial integrity, as it was recognized by the international community and recognizing the sovereignty of the Macedonian authorities on the entire territory. It means complete disarmament of Albanian terrorists and restoring the normal life in Macedonia for all its citizens regardless of their ethnic belonging," the Bulgarian President stressed.
According to him, Bulgaria considers that this is not in the national interest and priority only for Macedonia but it is also in the national interest of Bulgaria and all other states in the region that support the efforts of the Macedonian Government.
Petar Stoyanov said that the Albanian terrorists were threat for the European model of existence and democracy that has been built in the past 50 years.
Regarding the Macedonian initiative for establishing Balkan alliance against terrorism, the Bulgarian President considered that it should not be institutionalized in a structure that would include only the Balkan countries, but should be under auspices of EU.
Macedonian President Ljubcho Georgievski within his official visit to Bulgaria also met Wednesday afternoon Bulgarian Assembly Chairman Ognyan Gerdzhikov.
According to Gerdzhikov the meeting was held in very pleasant atmosphere due to the excellent political bilateral relations between the both countries.
"It is obvious that Macedonia is going through a crisis in this moment and I expressed Bulgarian readiness to do everything within its powers in order to resolve the crisis in Macedonia," Gerdzhikov stated.
He informed that they talked about the necessity of adoption of Framework agreement signed August 13 and the development of the bilateral cooperation in the field of economy and other areas. Gerdzhikov requested from Prime Minister Georgievski sooner ratification of the 11 treaties signed by the Macedonian and Bulgarian governments.
Gerdzhikov informed that he posed the question to the Macedonian Prime Minister regarding the denationalization of the property owned by the Bulgarian citizens. "We understand the delicate situation in Macedonia regarding the denationalization, but we were assured by the Macedonian premier that expert team would be established in order to find the best way to return the properties to the Bulgarian citizens," Bulgarian Assembly Chairman said.
Gerdzhikov stressed that Bulgaria would support Macedonia in resolving all problems.
Prime Minister Georgievski thanked once again for the hospitality, saying that many issues have been raised during the talks with the Bulgarian Assembly Chairman. "I informed him about the Macedonian position on the crisis, its roots and the terrorism and extremism that Macedonia has faced in the past few months," Georgievski stressed.
In that respect the both interlocutors agreed that the principles of the fight against terrorism should be identical world wide, including the Balkan region.
"We noted that the good political relations between the both countries should be supplemented with serious economic projects and in that respect the Parliament supports the realization of Corridor 8 with all its infrastructure," the Macedonian Prime Minister said.
Regarding the signing of the 11 treaties between the governments of both countries that has not been ratified by the Macedonian Parliament, Premier Georgievski said that it was due to the "objective and technical reasons" as the Macedonian Parliament did not hold any sessions for more than 100 days due to the military operations in the country.
"The Macedonian Parliament debates only on the political problems, Framework agreement and the constitutional changes at this moment," Georgievski said.
"The ratification of the treaties will enable open cooperation and will give new impulse to the overall communications between the both countries," Georgievski added.
In that respect, he said that parliamentary delegations would meet soon in order to speed up the process.
"Republic of Macedonia will support Bulgaria to become member of the UN Security Council, and Macedonia will request support for its membership within the Black Sea Union," Georgievski said, adding that the Bulgarian Assembly Chairman who is also one of the presidents of the Black Sea Union could contribute toward the Macedonian integration in this international organization.
Prime Minister Georgievski said that the meetings with Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe - Coburg - Gotha, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and Foreign Minister Solomon Passi focused on the Macedonian initiative for establishing Balkan pact against terrorism, but they agreed that the idea should be reconsidered and other countries should be included.
"Ten aspirant countries for NATO membership will gather October 5 in Bulgaria in order to discuss the fight against terrorism in the region," Georgievski explained, adding that there should be regional consensus in order to adopt the initiative.
Regarding the issue for denationalization of the properties owned by the Bulgarian citizens, Georgievski said that the issue should be resolved on expert's level.
"The Bulgarian part has good contra argument as their denationalization is opened for the foreign citizens and many Macedonian citizens gained their properties back," Georgievski said.
Regarding the problem with the international verification of Corridor 8, Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski expressed his assurance that the problem would be surpassed soon.
Macedonian and Bulgarian Prime Ministers Ljubcho Georgievski and Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha noted on Tuesday's joint press conference that the relations between both countries are heading into positive direction, MIA's special correspondent reports.
"The talks we held, gives me the right to think that our relations are heading into positive direction besides all difficulties in the region," Bulgarian Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg-Gotha stated. He expressed his assurance that the relations between the both countries would consolidate and would be further developed.
Prime Minister Georgievski thanking for the warm welcome, stressed that the relations on the Balkans and the relations with neighboring Bulgaria were priority for Republic of Macedonia. "The good relations established in the past few years would continue and would be enhanced with the new Bulgarian Government. The friendship would be specified through many economic, cultural and political communications," Prime Minister Georgievski stressed.
Within the talks with the Bulgarian Prime Minister, many issues have been raised regarding the safety in the region, the further cooperation between the both countries as well as the projects between Macedonia and Bulgaria in the field of communications and economy.
"I believe that with this pace of development of the relations we will not only make contribution for the two countries, but we will also contribute toward stabilization of the region in the field of security and economy," Prime Minister Georgievski stressed. In that respect he added that the "meetings in Sofia would induce new enthusiasm and new spirit in the good relations and good cooperation between the two countries."
"We are shocked from the terrorism in USA, but we have to stress that Macedonia was also a victim of terrorism in the past eight months," the Macedonian Prime Minister stressed.
According to him, there is no positive or negative terrorism, in small or big countries and it could not be silently approved in one region, and to be condemned in another one. The fight against the terrorism has to be global and worldwide, Premier Georgievski said.
Macedonia has no information on the direct or indirect participation of terrorist Osama Bin Laden in Macedonia, but is known that he was in North Albania and on Kosovo and his supporters were still on that terrain, what means that they are involved in Macedonia as well. "There is evidence of the participation of the mujahedeens in Macedonia," Georgievski added.
He reminded that Republic of Macedonia was exposed to classical terrorist actions, where 70 persons were killed, 250 were injured, more than 70,000 persons were expulsed from their homes and many churches and monasteries were destroyed. "Unfortunately, the international community was not very firm and vigorous when it was dealing with the terrorism in Macedonia and sometimes it seemed like it communicated with the terrorists more than with the legal Macedonian state institutions. I think that NATO countries should review their policy toward Macedonia and toward the entire region i.e. the Balkans, where the terrorism is "in bloom", the Macedonian Prime Minister said.
Macedonia has not requested military assistance from Bulgaria, the premiers decisively said, but as Georgievski said, only practical political support not only from Bulgaria but also from all Balkans countries was requested in order to cease the spreading of terrorism in the region.
Asked about the Bulgarian paternalism toward Macedonia, Bulgarian Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg-Gotha stressed that "it was not a case of the current policy and the Bulgarian policy conducted in near past."
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski sees NATO's role after "Essential Harvest" operation with new mandate - only protecting OSCE monitors.
Asked about his position on the referendum that would be eventually called in Macedonia, the prime minister said that it did not mean that the people would reject the Framework agreement, but the Macedonian people could approve it.
Referendum threat to Macedonia peace plan.
By Julius Strauss, Balkans Correspondent
MACEDONIAN MPs threatened to derail the Balkans peace plan last night as they considered putting it to a referendum, a procedure that would take months.
Stojan Andov, the hardline parliamentary speaker, tabled the debate despite warnings that such a move would breach the terms of an agreement signed by political leaders a month ago.
With Nato troops due to finish collecting rebel weapons and begin their withdrawal in a week's time, the debate threatens to throw the timetable for a peaceful settlement to the seven-month-old conflict into chaos.
Renato Ruggiero, Italy's Foreign Minister, in Skopje for talks with political leaders, said: "A delay of some months to organise and carry out a referendum seems to us to be a very serious danger for the political stability we are trying to reach."
The move is the latest obstacle thrown up by Macedonian hardliners trying to prevent the implementation of comprehensive reforms that would benefit the ethnic Albanian minority.
In a reciprocal arrangement the rebel National Liberation Army agreed to hand over its weapons in three phases, timed to coincide with the adopting of new laws. The fist two phases are now complete and the third is due to begin this week.
Nato sources said yesterday that the leader of the NLA, Ali Ahmeti, told them his fighters would continue to surrender their weapons even if the Macedonian government stalled a vote on implementing political concessions.
A Nato diplomat said: "We have received a commitment from Ahmeti that the final set of weapons will be turned in regardless of parliamentary action and that means we hope we can conclude the process by the expiry of our mandate on Sept 26."
The NLA is thought to have been heartened by a decision by Macedonian authorities on Monday to allow a small Nato security force to stay on to provide security for unarmed monitors. The decision means that a small British force could remain in the country for months or even years.
Alex Todorovic in Belgrade writes: The parliament of
Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb enclave, yesterday began to discuss a law on co-operating with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague that would pave the way for its two most wanted suspects to be extradited to Holland.
A vote today is expected to approve the measure, which will remove one of the objections the leadership has raised to sending Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb civil war leader, and Ratko Mladic, his military chief, to face justice.
The United Nations court indicted Karadzic and Mladic six years ago for genocide for their role in the 1992-5 siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.
Bin Laden's Balkan connection comes under scrutiny.
BELGRADE, Sept 19 (AFP) -
Osama bin Laden's followers are active throughout the Balkans, with bases in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania, Serbia's interior minister said Wednesday as Belgrade offered to share information with with the United States on their activities.
But in Tirana, Interior Minister Ilir Gjoni flatly denied that the tentacles of bin Laden's organisation had spread to Albania as did a spokesman for ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia.
Bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, is living in Afghanistan under the protection of the ruling Taliban but is said to have followers in as many as 15 countries worldwide.
"Bin Laden's organisation has two bases in Bosnia-Hercegovina, two in Kosovo, and is also present in Albania," Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihailovic was quoted by the independent Beta news agency as saying.
Serbia's interior ministry had "a good deal of information on the activities" in the Balkans "of the world's best known promoter of terrorism," Mihailovic added.
"We know who is at the head of the branches of bin Laden's worldwide organisation, which is also present in Macedonia," he said.
But in Tirana officials poured scorn on Mihailovic's claims.
"Bin Laden's organisation does not have bases in Albania," Gjoni told AFP.
"Albania is determined to participate with all means at its disposal in the international struggle against terrorism," he said adding that Albania was ready to offer the United States "all necessary aid in this respect."
He said that in recent years Albania had been working in conjunction with the information services of several countries, including the United States and had "exchanged particularly useful information with them."
The minister refused to confirm allegations that bin Laden had visited Albania in 1994 as the head of a delegation of Saudi businessman.
"We adopted severe measures to prevent infiltrations on our territory by people sought after by other countries for alleged criminal activities," said Gjoni.
Since 1998, Albania -- with assistance from American information services -- has stopped and expelled around ten Arabs suspected of terrorist activites.
Gjoni said that since the US attacks, Albania had shored up its border controls.
Press reports in Albania suggest border police have been given a list of 12 suspects wanted by Interpol following the attacks in the US.
Ethnic Albanian fighters of the National Liberation Army of Macedonia also denied having links with bin Laden.
"An enormous distance separates us from the ideas put forward by Osama bin Laden," political representative Ali Ahmeti said in a statement sent to AFP in Tirana.
A spokesman for the Bosnian government denied allegations in the country's media that bin Laden holds a Bosnian passport.
Four hundred nationals of Islamic countries carry Bosnian passports, but a spokesman for Sarajevo, Amer Kapetanovic, said categorically that "Ossama bin Laden does not."
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic met with US State Department officials visiting Belgrade on Tuesday and said that Serbia "knows the catastrophic consequences of terrorism" and was prepared to offer the United States "all the help necessary" to fight against it.
Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told B92 radio station that the Belgrade could pass on information gathered by intelligence services to the United States to help track down those responsible for the attacks.
"There is no reason for us to keep what we know for ourselves, if indeed we hold information about anyone who could be involved in the attacks," Zinkovic said, cautiously adding that he believed intelligence services in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Europe "know more than we do."
Bin Laden, Iran, and the KLA.
How Islamic Terrorism Took Root in Albania
by Christopher Deliso
September 19, 2001
A JARRING PROPHESY
Observers of NATOs war on behalf of the Albanians in Kosovo, and the more recent American duplicity in Macedonia, have been fearful of the potential backlash that would come were the US to desert its bastard offspring, the KLA/NLA. All the way back in March 2001, the following disturbing prediction was made:
"When we throw in the possibility that various cells of Osama Bin Ladens terrorist international are operating in this part of the world, the process of retribution against American assets will increase if America moves against the Greater Albania project."
This remarkable prophesy may soon be tested, in the aftermath of 11 September. Will the US, as Bush has warned, "make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them"? Indeed, if Bush does strike against Bin Ladens entire network, what will become of the Albanians?
BIN LADEN AND THE US TOGETHER AT LAST IN ALBANIA
The fact that the CIA armed Bin Laden to fight the Soviets, with the help of Pakistan and the Afghan drug trade, is old news, and makes for especially bitter reading now. For years, the Albanian operations of Bin Laden and other radical Muslim terrorists have also been widely reported. In this article I attempt to trace some of the major points in this huge and still widely unknown movement, from the events of today back as far as 1992, when the Islamic reawakening in Albania enhanced conditions for widespread terrorism.
One of the only good results of the bombing of Serbia was an increased awareness of Islamic terrorism in the Balkans. Albania was soon implicated. On 4 May 1999, the Washington Times reported, citing new reports from US intelligence and Janes Defense Review, that the town of Tropoje, Albania was a"common staging area" for Bin Ladens and the KLAs forces, and thus "a center for Islamic terrorists." US intelligence also acknowledged that Bin Ladins al-Qaeda had "both trained and financially supported" the Albanians, and that the Kosovo border had been infiltrated by Bosnian, Chechen and Afghan mujaheedin, in "crossings (which) originated in neighboring Albania and, according to the reports, included parties of up to 50 men." The Janes report added that "documents found last year on the body of a KLA member showed that he had escorted several volunteers into Kosovo, including more than a dozen Saudi Arabians. Each volunteer carried a passport identifying him as a Macedonian Albanian."
A combination of chaos and poverty in Albania paved the way for Bin Laden to move in. The Times of London quoted Fatos Klosi, the head of the Albanian intelligence service, who said that bin Laden sent terrorists to Kosovo. Using the front of funding a "humanitarian agency," bin Laden muscled into Albania as far back as 1994.
The Times report gets even better:
"Klosi said he believed terrorists had already infiltrated other parts of Europe from bases in Albania. Interpol believes more than 100,000 blank Albanian passports were stolen in riots last year, providing ample opportunity for terrorists to acquire false papers."
A short time before this, a French national on trial for murder in Albania claimed to have been a member of bin Ladens Albania cell, and had come "to recruit and arm fighters for Kosovo."
The general anarchy and upheaval in Albania over the past decade has made it an easy target for wealthy Islamic terrorists: weapons can be acquired with ease; high unemployment makes for high recruitment; and all assistance, whether economic, military or "humanitarian," is gladly accepted.
THE "HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATION" FRONT
Bin Ladens kind offer of "humanitarian help" in 1994 has been used repeatedly ever since to fund terrorism in Albania. Many terrorists have posed as "humanitarian workers" since. Secret KLA training camps, which the CIA and SAS also used, were created in Northern Albania by Iran and other countries "using Islamic educational institutions and projects for the development of rural communities as a front." Back in 1999, "a Saudi government audit acquired by US intelligence showed that 5 of Saudi Arabias top business executives ordered the National Commercial Bank (NCB), the kingdoms largest, to transfer personal funds along with $3 million diverted from a Saudi pension fund to New York and London banks. The money was diverted into the accounts of Islamic charities, including Islamic Relief and Blessed Relief, that serve as fronts for Bin Laden."
AN OFFER THEY COULDN'T REFUSE
Mighty generous of the Saudi executives, dont you think? The actual truth of this incident tells another story, and one that anti-Arab Americans should remember: these guys are just as afraid of bin Laden as we are.
It is well-known that bin Laden has a personal vendetta against the Saudi government, which he views as corrupt and unabashedly pro-Western. Over the past few years, he has built his economic base not only through contributions from rabid fanatics, but by "collecting" from unwilling businessmen representative of the hated Saudi regime. In this practice, Bin Laden has become the terrorists' Godfather extorting from wealthy Arab businessmen. In the above "donation," for example, "intelligence sources say the businessmen, who are worth more than $5 billion, were paying bin Laden protection money to stave off attacks on their businesses in Saudi Arabia."
Apparently, bin Laden tried to "collect" in a similar way from Albania in late 1999, when he made an unsuccessful request for asylum. This report, of 17 November, 1999, alleged that the attempt stemmed from the fact that bin Laden "had bought several key politicians who have looked away from the activities of his supporters in Albania." The report went on to quote an Albanian newspaper, Koha Jone, which reported that a 42-year-old Jordanian businessman, resident in Albania since 1992, had just been arrested by the CIA in connection with bin Laden. Even if the Albanians could keep bin Laden out, they couldnt control their protg, as they had found out only a few months before, in July 1999, when US Secretary of Defense William Cohen canceled a trip to Albania, out of fear of assassination from bin Ladens gang.
CHIEF AMONG ENEMIES
A long list of nationalities are represented in these and other documents relating to Albania and Kosovo: Islamic terrorists are cited as being from Egypt, Jordan, France, Bosnia, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Lybia, Pakistan This indicates that bin Laden certainly couldnt have run Albania by himself. He was aided all along by another old friend of the United States Iran.
IRAN IN ALBANIA: IDEOLOGY AND TERRORISM
A report of 22 March, 1998 in the Times of London confirmed that bin Laden and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had signed a pact (on 16 February in Teheran) consolidating their operations in Albania and Kosovo, hoping "to turn the region into their main base for Islamic armed action in Europe." This was the unfortunate but logical outcome of almost a decade of a growing Iranian presence in Albania, and a growing radicalization of the Albanian "freedom fighters."
At the 1994 summit of Islamic countries in Jeddah, an agreement had been reached to "help the brothers in the Balkans with all available means, including military aid. The Balkan peninsula was chosen as a beachhead for an organized penetration of Islam into Europe." Italy was used as the base for two failed attempts to assassinate the Pope in 1997 (first in Sarajevo, and later, in Bologna), attempts which the Iranian secret services allegedly masterminded, using "a suicide group of 18 terrorists from Turkey, Moslem Bosnia, and Iran."
One excellent article details the development of Irans terrorist cells in the Balkans. Command centers are found in both Muslim and non-Muslim countries. At the end of 1997, Iranian diplomat Mahmud Nurani, a Hezbollah veteran, was put in charge of the Rome cell involved in the attempts on John Paul II. At the same time, Kurban Ali Najeff Abadi, a close friend of Ayatollah Khameni, was installed in Albania. The consolidation of Iranian influence, in both legal and extralegal concerns, was expedited by Albanias descent into anarchy in 1997 (during which, incidentally, mafia gangs and the nascent KLA robbed the Albanian military of much of its US-donated weaponry). Albania "desperately needed aid, regardless of its origin," and crime, kidnapping and smuggling were rampant. And so:
"Iranian intelligence circles deemed that Albania was ripe and could accept the introduction of extremist Islamism which was to take place on two levels, according to Teherans plan. Publicly, Iran and its Islamic partners (were) to build a comprehensive financial support system ranging from banks and financial institutions to economy, and including numerous humanitarian organizations secretly, a broad network was created to establish the intelligence-operative base destined to cover entire Europe, going primarily through the Balkans and Italy."
IRAN IN ALBANIA: THE ECONOMIC FRONT
The intersection of these two interests, economic control and the ideological control necessary for terrorism, came in 1998, at the meeting of the Iranian Supreme Economic Council. This meeting was dedicated exclusively to Albania, and it both reconfirmed and extended the policy of Islamic entrenchment developed since 1991. Meeting with influential figures such as Mohsen Nurbakan, head of the Iranian Central Bank, the Council suggested a "long-term plan" to promote Irans main objectives in Albania: the formation of a "commercial operative base" near the "heart of Europe"; the strengthening of a "strategic axis" between Sarajevo and Tirana; and the installation of a headquarters for Iranian intelligence operations on Greece, Austria, Italy, and Europe in general.
The implementation of Irans plan has brought Albania into the fold, and made it a staging post for Islamic terrorism in Europe. Financial dependence on Arab banks represents "the exclusive source of hard currency input into Albania." Iranian banks have in this way "penetrated all segments" of Albanian society and economy, "thus fully legalizing the Iranian presence in all spheres of financing."
That this was done for reasons beyond sound business strategy was clear, from the instructions of Mr. Nurbakan to the banks; they were "to invest in Albania, regardless of poor profit and business risk factors." In other words, the banking presence was a "legitimate face" for Irans intelligence: "officials of the Iranian financial intelligence are deployed in all Teherans institutions in Albania and cooperate closely with the operatives of the Intelligence Affairs Ministry regarding the financing of terrorist training camps, purchase of arms and military equipment, money laundering and other activities."
Yet, one many wonder, how did ostensibly Europe-oriented Albania get involved so heavily with radical Islamic movements? The answer is that the process has been complex, and years in the making.
THE SECRET WAR: RESCUING THE ALBANIANS FROM GODLESSNESS
Albania is and has always been a very poor and backward country. Under Communism, there was little knowledge of the outside world, to the extent that the few Albanians who made it out without being shot by border guards would gaze in wonder at a city such as Athens, not knowing what planet they had stumbled upon. This unfortunate lack of worldliness has aided Islamic extremists. In the next two sections I make extensive use of an excellent study by M. Vickers and J. Pettifer, Albania: from Anarchy to a Balkan Identity (1997). This close study of the countrys recent development, while very sympathetic to the Albanian cause, details the steps which have brought Islamic terrorist organizations to Albania.
In 1967, Albania was declared the worlds first atheist state. When this prohibition was ended in 1990, Albania became an evangelical free-for-all. Although many religions were represented- including the Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, and others, the chief ones (in terms of Albanias historical religious demographics) were the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Muslims. The quick growth of Islam was due partly to its traditionally high profile (a relic of Ottoman days), and partly to a heavy influx of money from wealthy Arab countries. The Albanians, many of whom were too young to have experience of religion, were navely eager and curious, as was gleefully noted: "Islamic Relief reported that Albanian Muslims were like a dry sponge, ready to soak up anything given to them." (Page 104)
THE GOLDEN CARROT
The chaotic, impoverished state of Albania in the early 1990s meant that it was easy pickings for deep-pocketed Islamic proselytizers. They were willing, at a time when the US and EU still were not, to invest in the country. Countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait wanted to bring in hardcore religion. The golden carrot they dangled was to bring Albania into the fold economically:
"In October 1992 a delegation from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), headed by its chairman Ahmed Mohammed Ali, visited Tirana to lay the groundwork for Albania to join the bank. Ali told President Berisha that it was willing to invest in Albania and develop cooperation in all areas of the economy, including agriculture, education and transport The delegation also discussed plans to build an institute to train teachers in Arabic and five schools; to dispatch a first contingent of Albanian students to undergo higher education in IDB member countries; and to promote book publishing." (Page 105)
Eight months prior to this, a delegation from the Turkish Islamic community had arrived in Tirana, to discuss with then-president Alia the role of religion in Albania, and the strengthening of religious cooperation between the two countries. In 1992, Albania and Turkey consolidated for the first time a defense pact which now involves millions of dollars of aid yearly from the latter to the former.
A month later, "a Kuwaiti delegation presented the beleaguered Alia administration with an ambitious investment plan and, in return for promises of economic aid, asked for permission to build several mosques. It was then that major construction of mosques began in earnest in Albania." (Page 102)
SPRING, 1992: A MASSIVE CONSTRUCTION OF MOSQUES BEGINS
By 1990, Turkish authorities had already started renovating mosques from the Ottoman period. The Kuwaiti initiative of 1992, which wedded religion with cash, continued this trend aggressively. It was the beginning of an ambitious new building program funded entirely from without. Mosques for the citizens of Tirana, Shkoder, Durres and Kavaja were promised by four sheiks of the Alislamic Aluok Foundation, based in the Netherlands, who visited Tirana on 23 April.
In addition to Middle Eastern governments, expatriate groups from Europe and the US funded the rebirth of Islam in Albania. At first, these new mosques were many more than demand required, and often strangely incongruous with their surroundings:
"In the Muslim village of Koplik which is no more than a cluster of two-room cottages with small courtyards, joined by a series of dirt paths which in winter are churned into a sea of swirling mud by the hooves of cows and horses an enormous newly-built yellow-painted mosque stands in the square, paid for by the Saudi Arabian government. Looking majestically out of place, it stands alone in an inhospitable, poor and miserable locality. The inside is richly carpeted and Korans are piled high along the walls. The opulence of Kopliks mosque is in marked contrast to the church recently opened not far away in a Catholic village, which is in a bleak former agricultural building. It had no seats and the people had collected little piles of stones on which to sit, until in 1995 an Austrian-based charity furnished the church with benches." (Page 100)
RADICALIZING THE ALBANIANS
Another of the main purposes of the Islamic mission to Albania was to train and radicalize the young generation:
"As Albanian schools remained secular, children and young men were being sent to Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Malaysia, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to study Islamic theology. Islamic organisations helped to fund the expenses of those Albanians wishing to make the trip to Mecca; in 1991 around 170 Muslims from Albania went on the haji; in 1992 the figure was 300 and in 1993 over 400."
In this period, Albania became known as a place of refuge for those radical Muslims who were too hot for their own countries to handle, and "it was well-known that there were several fundamentalists on the run from Egyptian authorities who were living in Tirana." (Page 106)
EPILOGUE, OR, A BALKAN EPITAPH
There is a lot more to be discovered about the Albanian connection with bin Laden, and undoubtedly the next few weeks and months will turn up some dirt. How the US will act remains to be seen. It is unlikely that America will turn its back on its Albanian allies, as that would mean admitting yet another embarrassing mistake of foreign policy.
However, this should provoke some serious questions. First, how is it that the US Defense Secretary cannot visit a country that is one of his government's chief recipients of aid without fearing for his life from bin Ladens terrorists? And why, even though his request was denied, did bin Laden even imagine that Albania would shelter him? These unsettling questions tell of a darker reality behind Americas prime "ally" in the Balkans.
Without exception, all of the other Balkan neighbors fear and hate Albania, with its American support and military aid, and its increasingly militant Islamic nature. Although its hard to gauge to what extent radical Islam has propelled the quest for a "Greater Albania," there is no question that religion is now a key factor in uniting the fractious Albanian groups Kosovars, Gegs and Tosks who never liked each other much before 1990, and who probably would never have developed strong feelings of unity, without the imposition of the kind of radical Islam championed by Osama bin Laden. Its sad to say that the nurturing of radical Islam in the Balkans may prove to be Americas most lasting contribution to the region.
Christopher Deliso is a San Francisco-based travel writer and journalist with special interest in the Balkans. He received a BA in Philosophy and Greek (Hampshire College, 1997) and an M.Phil with distinction in Byzantine Studies (Oxford University, 1999). From 1997-2000 Mr. Deliso lived and worked in Ireland, England, Turkey and Greece, and he spent one month in Macedonia in January, 2000. He is currently investigating media and governmental policies regarding the Macedonian crisis, and he publishes regularly on European travel destinations.
Hijackers connected to Albanian terrorist cell.
By Bill Gertz
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
U.S. intelligence officials are investigating ties between the terrorists who carried out suicide airliner attacks and associates of Osama bin Laden based in Albania.
The connections were described as support for the terrorist operation to hijack U.S. commercial jetliners and crash them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
No further details of the support could be learned.
One official said intelligence reports about the Albanian connection to the attacks is one of several leads being pursued overseas by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
Bin Laden and his organization, al Qaeda, are believed to have small groups of terrorists or supporters in 50 to 60 nations, including Albania, according to U.S. officials.
Asked if getting bin Laden is the U.S. goal, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters yesterday that "we are after the al Qaeda network."
"It's not one individual," Mr. Powell said. "It's lots of individuals, and it's lots of cells. ... Osama bin Laden is the chairman of a holding company. And within that holding company are terrorist cells and organizations in dozens of countries around the world."
The administration's war on terrorism will "start with that one individual" bin Laden.
"It will not be over until we have gotten into the inside of this organization, inside its decision cycle, inside its planning cycle, inside its execution capability, and until we have neutralized and destroyed it," Mr. Powell said. "That's our objective."
Albania is one of several places U.S. intelligence agencies are focusing their resources from human agents to electronic eavesdropping.
Since the mid-1990s, bin Laden associates have been based in Tirana, Albania's capital, as well as in at least two other towns in the small, formerly communist nation, U.S. officials said.
Islamic radicals, including supporters of bin Laden, have been supporting Albanian rebels fighting in the region, including members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Intelligence officials have said there are reports that KLA members have been trained at bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden and his Islamic extremist group, al Qaeda, are the main suspects in last week's terrorist attacks.
As of last year, the group operated a residence in Tirana, and the CIA has been pressing Albania's government to expel all associates of the Islamic terrorists.
According to U.S. officials, bin Laden gained a foothold in Albania in 1994 by portraying himself to the government there as a wealthy Saudi national who was in charge of a humanitarian agency that could help Albania.
Albanian intelligence believes terrorists have benefited from the theft of some 1,000 blank Albanian passports that were stolen during riots in 1997, according to a 1998 report in the London Sunday Telegraph.
Since the attack, the FBI has detained 49 persons, many of whom appear to be of Middle Eastern descent. Four of the detainees were are identified as "material witnesses" to the Sept. 11 attacks. None has been identified by nationality and the passports they used to enter the United States also have not been identified.
In 1998, U.S. and Albanian authorities broke up an Islamic terrorist cell in Albania and arrested two members of the bin Laden group.
The CIA was able to obtain a large quantity of documents and computer equipment that led to further arrests. Two members of the group, Egyptian nationals, were turned over to anti-terrorist police in Egypt that year.
"Bin Laden's group has a network in Albania," said former CIA counterterrorism official Vince Cannistraro.
"This looks like the support operation [for the U.S. attacks] was worldwide," he said of reports of the Albanian connection.
Albanian Police Chief Bilbil Mema told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that Albania had ceased to be a safe haven for terrorism. "In Albania there is no longer an Islamic threat," Mr. Mema was quoted as saying. "This country is no longer a refuge for Islamic terrorists."
Albanian security and intelligence authorities, in cooperation with the CIA, had "successfully led operations aimed at destroying the network that Islamic terrorists have attempted to establish in this country," Mr. Mema said.
Mudjahids Spotted on Photos from Kosovo.
There is sure evidence, mentioned by a number of Western mass media, that the people of Bin Laden were spotted in Albania and Kosovo, told Ljubco Georgievski at the meeting in the Council of Ministers. In Skopje they even have photos to prove it. We also have evidence that mudjahids take part in armed conflicts with the Macedonian regular army, added Prime Minister of Macedonia. He put forward this argument to substantiate his statement that the people of Bin Laden took part, albeit indirectly, in the destabilization of his country. We expect of Bulgaria to pursue a more energetic policy and render more support to Macedonia in the country's struggle against extremists, said the guest.
Skopije: Bin Laden's Men Fan Crisis Here.
Ljubco Georgievski demanded a Balkan Treaty against terrorism.
Bin Laden's men took part in the destabilization of Macedonia, Ljubco Georgievski, Prime Minister of Bulgaria's West neighbour said in Sofia yesterday. He is visiting Bulgaria upon the invitation of his colleague Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. There are some indirect proofs of the Arab terrorist interference with the events in Macedonia, Georgievski said. He, anyway, declined to commit himself with any concrete statement on the matter if the assailant managed to build up a Balkan terroristic network. At his meeting with Bulgarian Minister of Defense Nikolai Svinarov, Georgievski demanded a Balkan treaty on combatting terrorism to be drafted. The Minister is for concluding an international treaty with the participation of NATO Member States and Partner States, sources from the MoD specified. Macedonian PM met also Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy yesterday evening.
No Military Supplies Negotiated.
At the moment Macedonia doesn't need military help, Macedonia's PM said. We haven't discussed military supplies for Macedonia, the Bulgarian PM confirmed. We could speak of paternalistic policy towards Macedonia only in the past. Now our relations are based on the new realities, he said. There was slight embarrassment and confusion when the Bulgarian PM said, that our government will do its best to solve the problem with the Macedonian language. A little earlier Georgievski said that the language issue has been closed on state level.
Eight Bulgarians Evacuated from Pakistan.
Eight Bulgarian nationals will be evacuated from Pakistan, Ivan Petkov, Ambassador ad Interim of Bulgaria to Pakistan said yesterday before Darik Radio. A second phase of full alert is declared in the country, due to the expected strike of the USA against Osama bin Laden. Five Bulgarian diplomats and three coaches are in Islamabad now. We have worked out an evacuation plan, the Ambassador said. Strikes are inevitable, he predicts.
President Convenes Security Council.
President Stoyanov will convene the National Security Consultative Council. The very concept of security has to be revised, he said. The theoretical aspect of the problem will be discussed by the Consultative Council. It is too early to discuss the details of our participation in the combat against terrorism, Stoyanov commented. "As early as two years ago I said that Bulgaria must behave like an actual member of NATO, declaring already now its readiness to shoulder certain responsibilities," the President reminded. Yesterday the Head of State put his signature in the Condolences Book in the U.S. Embassy. "I came here both as a president and as a citizen," he said.
Ekaterina Mihailova invited IMRO-DPMNU for a meeting.
The Union of Democratic Forces leader Ekaterina Mihailova has sent an invitation for a meeting with IMRO-DPMNU representatives during her talks with Macedonian Premier Lyubcho Georgievsky. The Chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces - Coalition parliamentary group said to Georgievsky that Bulgaria did not carry out active enough policy in the South Eastern Europe. They also discussed the role of the two countries in stopping the conflicts based on religious and ethnic reasons. Ekaterina Mihailova defined the statement of Premier Simeon Koburg-Gotha, that efforts for overcoming language problem between Bulgaria and Macedonia would be made, as scandalous.
Sofia, September 19 (BTA) - The political situation and the
status of security in the Balkans, particularly the latest developments related to the crisis in Macedonia, topped the agenda of Bulgarian President Peter Stoyanov's meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski here on Wednesday.
Georgievski started a visit to Bulgaria Tuesday.
"We agreed that the international community should consider more carefully the arguments of the Macedonian side," Georgievski said in a media statement after the meeting. "We expect the international community to act more firmly as regards the terrorists, following the attacks in the US."
"Albanian terrorism threatens to destroy the European model of communication built over the last 50 years, according to which negotiations are a must at hard moments of disagreement," Stoyanov said, as quoted by his Press Secretary.
At the beginning of the meeting, Stoyanov confirmed his country's strong support for the efforts of the Macedonian Government towards a settlement of the crisis based on the recognition of Macedonia's territorial integrity and the sovereignty of its Government over all parts of its territory.
"This presupposes complete disarmament of the ethnic Albanian extremists and resumption of normal life in Macedonia for all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic identity," Stoyanov reportedly said.
Georgievski told the press, "Sadly, the double standards
applied by the international community to the crisis in Macedonia are more than obvious. Over the eight months of the crisis, the international community has shown no genuine resolve to combat terrorism - terrorism has even been tolerated, which has led to its spread."
Asked to assess Bulgaria's position on the crisis in his country, considering that Bulgaria has been acting as a NATO partner, Georgievski noted that Bulgaria should be regarded as a Partnership for Peace member and recalled that Macedonia, too, seeks NATO membership.
"The objective of NATO's Operation Essential Harvest has been to collect 3,300 units of weapons. Work to this end has been proceeding well," Georgievski said. "The problem is that pessimistic estimates of the Macedonian specialized authorities put the terrorists' weapons at 60,000 to 70,000 units. So we think that too many weapons remain and if they are not collected, they will be fired at Macedonian cities and villages."
Stoyanov and Georgievski considered an initiative for a Balkan agreement on joint fight against terrorism. The two concluded that the initiative had better be implemented within the existing cooperation programmes for Southeastern Europe with support from the European Union and NATO.
Stoyanov reportedly said that, while he unconditionally supports the cooperation and solidarity among Balkan states, he thinks that confining cooperation within the institutional boundaries of the Balkans will delay the European integration of the Balkan countries.
Stoyanov and Georgievski also discussed the development of bilateral relations and the implementation of joint infrastructure projects of strategic importance.
At an earlier meeting with Prime Minister Georgievski, National Assembly Chairman Ognyan Gerdjikov pointed to the fact that eleven bilateral agreements are still pending ratification by the Macedonian Parliament. Gerdjikov requested the guest's assistance to accelerate the process of putting these documents into effect. Georgievski said he hopes that the agreements will enter into force shortly.
Gerdjikov told reporters he had raised with Georgievski the issue of Bulgarian nationals' property in Macedonia in connection with the expiry of Macedonia's law on restitution at the end of this year.
The visiting Prime Minister said this problem will be tackled by experts as soon as the embassy officials ascertain the number of the claimants and catalogue the property claimed.
The Bulgarian authorities have been arguing that Macedonian nationals have already had their property in Bulgaria returned to them, Georgievski noted.
Taking a question by a Macedonian journalist, Georgievski commented on a Macedonian initiative for a joint position of the Balkan countries on anti-terrorism policies. The proposal must be considered by all countries in the region in order to reach consensus, Georgievski said. He added that the fight against terrorism will be a central topic during the Sofia summit of the nine Central and East European countries seeking NATO membership, which will open October 5. BTA
BULGARIA-MACEDONIAN PM-POLITICAL FORCES.
Sofia, September 19 (BTA) - Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who arrived here on an official visit on Tuesday, met with leaders of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the Socialist Party on Wednesday.
A Bulgarian business delegation will visit Skopje within a few weeks with the help of the Socialist Party, its leader Georgi Purvanov said.
Summing up his meeting with Georgievski, Purvanov said they talked about the threat of terrorism in the Balkans. He reiterated his view that in the context of Bulgaria's partnership with NATO, the Alliance should be warned that "some its actions legitimize the terrorists in Kosovo and Macedonia".
Purvanov described the Socialist Party as having the most active and useful contacts with the parties represented in the Macedonian parliament. "Our aim is to induce the government to intensify bilateral relations," he said. A Socialist delegation visited Macedonia in August. Purvanov briefed Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on the results of the visit and the situation in Macedonia afterwards.
Meeting with Georgievski, UDF leaders Ekaterina Mihailova and Nadezhda Mihailova officially invited a VMRO-DPMNE delegation to visit Bulgaria.
"We share the view that interstate contacts and cooperation between the two countries' political parties should continue," Ekaterina Mihailova said. Given the present situation in the world in the wake of the terrorist attacks, there should be better coordination and common stands of the institutions, as well as of the political forces. "We are not staying out of these problems just because we are in opposition, on the contrary, we want5 to be active in their solution," Ekaterina Mihailova said.
UDF deputy leader Nadezhda Mihailova told the Macedonian prime minister the UDF's position is that Bulgaria should pursue an active policy, and not only in Southeastern Europe, "which is not being done now". The two countries' role and contribution to avoiding confrontation along ethnic or religious lines was another subject of discussion.
E. Mihailova said the sides agreed that the two countries have good interstate cooperation. BTA
Sofia, September 19 (BTA) - Macedonian Farming Minister Marian Gorchev and Bulgarian Deputy Farming Minister Boiko Boev agreed that a bilateral working group to expand cooperation in agriculture should be set up.
According to a Farming Ministry press release, the group will devise concrete measures to boost bilateral trade and improve quality control over farming produce. The efficiency of this type of control will improve with the ratification by the Macedonian parliament of an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in quarantine and plant protection and of the veterinary convention.
Bilateral cooperation will assist the development of agriculture in the region and will facilitate the access of Macedonian produce to European markets, Gorchev said, confirming the desire of the Macedonian side to import Bulgarian wheat.
Boev noted that this year's grain crop will allow Bulgaria to export some quantities. A concrete export offer will be made within the next few days.
Gorchev requested that Bulgaria grant Macedonian producers a 10-15,000 t quota for the import of tomatoes. Boev said this proposal will be discussed at government level.
Bulgarian Deputy Farming Minister Nihat Kabil and Macedonian water management authority director Tsele Ristovski also attended the meeting.
The Farming Ministry is busy on a strategy for the development of resource-efficient irrigation agriculture, Kabil said. The two countries need to cooperate in irrigation to eliminate the consequences of global warming and the predominantly dry weather, Kabil said. BTA
Nesebur, September 19 (BTA) - Vice President Todor Kavaldjiev opened Wednesday in Nesebur the meeting of cities from the Southeastern region with cultural and historical heritage with the words: "Let's not put up barriers and walls but build bridges for a better future."
Representatives of Safran bolu (Turkey), Kotor (Montenegro), Rhodos (Greece), Ohrid (Macedonia) and Nesebur.
The initiative for the first-of-its-kind meeting belongs to the hosts. Ideas and new strategies on how to raise money for the preservation of the cultural monuments in the above 5 cities will be exchanged.
At the end of the forum, the participants will adopt a document on cooperation for the preservation of world heritage.
Uncompromising fight against all forms of terrorism should be waged but innocent people should not be hurt in it, Kavaldjiev told journalists in connection with the attacks in the US. BTA