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Mon, Dec 13, 1999 - Page 3 News List

Association says Albania in tug-of-war over Taiwan

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS The founder of an Albanian-Taiwanese friendship association has called on members to avoid getting involved in political issues

By Catherine Sung and Arsim Zekolli  /  STAFF REPORTER AND CONTRIBUTING REPORTER IN TETOVO , MACEDONIA

In a sign that Taiwan is becoming Albania's diplomatic pawn, the founder of the Association of Friendship between Albania and Taiwan has called on members to avoid any "political functions" in the organization.

In a press conference last Thursday, Neritan Ceka, the founder and honorary president of the Albania-Taiwan association, announced his resignation from his post, citing a shift in China's position toward Albania as the reason for his decision.

Beijing has "expressed the desire to become a serious economic partner with Albania," he said. Ceka, who is also a parliamentarian, called on other legislators and members of the association to withdraw their membership, saying the organization should be stripped of its political functions.

"This association can remain in the business of establishing trade relations with Taiwan, but free of any political stripes," he said.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently denied allegations that it was ready to swap US$1 billion in exchange for diplomatic recognition from Albania.

A Reuters report quoted Pellumb Shullazi, an Albanian legislator and deputy chairman of the association, as saying that Taiwan's envoy in Macedonia, Peter Cheng (鄭博久), had implied that Taipei would be willing to go forward with the cash-for-ties deal.

Albania, meanwhile, appears to be playing Taiwan against China in order to gain economic concessions from Beijing.

Albania's defense minister, Luan Hajdaraga, was in China when speculation about the cash-for-ties deal first broke in the news.

The Balkan state's president, Rexhep Meidani, is currently in Beijing at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin (江澤民), the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

Meidani departed for China over the weekend, saying he hopes to increase economic cooperation between Albania and China through Beijing's assistance in the economic restructuring of his nation, Xinhua reported.

Historically, Albania has maintained strong ties with China.

Beijing was one of the biggest aid donors to the Balkan state in the 1970s and Tirana actively assisted China in ousting the Republic of China from the UN in 1971.

But in the Kosovo crisis, in which more than half a million Kosovar Albanians were driven from their homeland, Beijing sided with Yugoslavia and strongly protested against NATO intervention.

Macedonia, Taiwan's only foothold in the Balkan region, established diplomatic relations with the island in January 1999.

To strengthen its presence in the region, Taiwan has offered US$300 million in aid to Kosovo for refugee relief and reconstruction.

So far, Taiwan has delivered an estimated US$4.5 million -- around US$2 million to US$3 million was disbursed through NGOs and US$2 million was spent donating buses to Kosovo.

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