Macedonia expects significant western help

OTTAWA, Feb 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski made clear on Tuesday his small Balkan country expected significant and innovative Western help in return for its pro-NATO role during last year's Kosovo crisis.

Trajkovski said his country had paid a heavy price for siding with the West during NATO's 11-week bombing campaign to end years of Serb repression of ethnic Albanians.

Around 360,000 Albanian refugees fled to Macedonia during the three-month crisis, causing damage that Trajkovski said amounted to more than $660 million.

"Unfortunately a very small amount of money was donated to Macedonia, but we still hope the international community will be taking care of this region," he told reporters in Ottawa on the second day of an official visit to Canada.

Macedonia serves as the base for several thousand NATO troops supporting the 40,000-strong KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo, which in part, has helped to oversee the smooth return to Kosovo of almost a million refugees who fled the conflict.

Last year Trajkovski accused rich countries of breaking their promises to help the impoverished former Yugoslav republic, which has a population of 2.1 million people.

Trajkovski said he expected much from the European Union-sponsored Balkans Stability Pact, set up last year to help develop and integrate the countries of southeastern Europe following the end of the Kosovo conflict.

"The Stability Pact needs to assume the role of a catalyst and coordinator of the process of providing financing for the reconstruction of the economy of the countries in the region," he said.

Trajkovski said the Stability Pact should encourage the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to spend more money buying the shares of local companies.

He also called for the creation of new funds to invest in the region and for lines of soft credit to be granted to private sector investment projects.

Trajkovski said infrastructure projects should be financed by a combination of funds from European Investment Bank credit lines as well as donated funds.

"This will result in lasting renewal of the growth in countries in the region without their going into debtors' crises because of (excessive) foreign indebtedness," he said.

Members of the Stability Pact are due to meet in the Macedonian capital Skopje on February 10 and 11, but the question of funding will not be decided until a donors' conference in Brussels at the end of March.

Macedonia is pressing to become members of both the European Union and of NATO. Trajkovski was at pain to stress how relatively advanced his country was and how well it had worked together with NATO.

"We have proven that we belong to the family of Europe and democratic countries," he said.

"The Republic of Macedonia, as a front-line country during the Kosovo crisis, has proved yet again in practice that it has a key role for stability in the region," he said.

Trajkovski said he had pressed Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien during talks on Monday to extend the country's General System of Preferences program, which gives developing nations duty-free access for some goods.

"This is a right we get from other developed countries, but not Canada. I was promised yesterday by the prime minister that we're going to work on this," he said.

Original article