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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 19:35 GMT
Donors double Macedonia aid
Ethnic Albanian refugees
Many refugees have still not returned home
International donors have approved a $515 million package to rebuild Macedonia's economy after last year's conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels - more than doubling their initial target.


With this conference we will leave behind us the political instability and we will turn a new page of economic prosperity

Ljubco Georgievski, Macedonian Prime Minister

Meeting in Brussels, about 40 countries and international organisations said the money would be used to finance the reconstruction of the country as well as to help the government implement its economic reforms.

The rest will be spent on rebuilding homes, schools and other facilities, and to underpin the peace agreement by strengthening local government and improving the teaching of the Albanian language.

The conference - co-sponsored by the European Commission and the World Bank - was given the go-ahead last week when the Macedonian parliament adopted key parts of an agreement which ended the recent conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels.

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels says that by exceeding their target, donors clearly gave Macedonia a vote of confidence.

Conditions

In pledging 307 million euros ($274m), donors highlighted three areas of priority for Macedonia: macroeconomic assistance, reconstruction of areas affected by the conflict as well as measures to implement the peace agreement signed last year.

"In addition, donors indicated another (271m euros ($241m) for general economic development purposes in 2002," a statement by the co-sponsors said.

Donor money
307m euros ($274m) to balance the budget, to rebuild infrastructure and implement peace deal
271m euros ($241m) for general economic development

The biggest contributions came from the European Commission and the United States.

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski welcomed the conference as a turning point for his conflict-ravaged country.

"With this conference we will leave behind us the political instability and we will turn a new page of economic prosperity," he said.

Corruption fears

The International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation monitoring conflict areas, warned donors that to approve a quarter of a billion dollars without demanding serious reform would simply mean subsidising corruption.
Estimated costs
185m euros ($165m) to balance the budget
45-73m euros ($40-64m) for reconstruction
76m euros ($66m) to implement peace deal

The group says corruption threatens the viability of the Macedonian state.

EU and World Bank officials insist, however, that they are monitoring closely how aid is spent, strengthening in the process both local institutions and the free press.

The Macedonian Government has taken a series of steps to implement the internationally-backed deal signed last August which pulled it back from the brink of all-out war with the rebels.

The agreement promised greater freedom to Macedonia's ethnic Albanians in running their own affairs.

Ethnic Albanian guerrilla
The peace deal ended fighting between the government and ethnic Albanian rebels
Last week, the international community said it would reward Macedonia after the government approved an amnesty for rebel fighters.

Thousands of Albanian and Macedonian homes were shelled or torched in the six-month conflict last year.

Many of the 80,000 people who fled the fighting now live among the ruins of their homes, or have still not returned.


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See also:

07 Mar 02 | Europe
Macedonia passes rebel amnesty
07 Dec 01 | Europe
Macedonia aid under threat
20 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia 'war crimes' probe
16 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia adopts new constitution
09 Oct 01 | Europe
Macedonia grants rebels amnesty
26 Sep 01 | World
Macedonia: the Nato mission
16 Nov 01 | Europe
Challenges ahead for Macedonia
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