Plus, efforts to defuse Azerbaijan-Iran tensions and a new type of politician enters the Slovak parliament.by Ky Krauthamer, Ioana Caloianu, and Joshua Boissevain 14 March 2012
Four years almost to the day after a series of explosions ripped through an Albanian munitions disposal factory, killing 26 and damaging 5,000 homes, a court on 13 March sentenced 19 former officials to prison.
The former head of the Albanian arms export agency, Ylli Pinari, will serve 18 years, and the former owner of the private company that managed the factory was sentenced to 10 years, Balkan Insight reports. Former army chief of staff Luan Hoxha will serve six years, and other officials were given terms of from one to 18 years. Some local residents complained the sentences were too lenient considering the gravity of the man-made disaster.
The court ruled that the officials had failed to follow proper procedures while destroying tons of old Chinese and Soviet munitions dating from the communist era. Disposal of the obsolete ammunition was a condition for Albania’s NATO membership. Albania joined the alliance in 2009.
After the 15 March 2008 disaster, residents expressed anger that untrained women and children, some as young as 12, were working at the factory in Gerdec, 10 kilometers (six miles) outside Tirana, TOL reported at the time.
Shortly after the disaster Albanian Prosecutor General Ina Rama said, "A flagrant violation in this [ammunition disposal] process has been the employment of children."
In an effort to mend recently frayed relations between Tehran and Baku, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev assured Iranian officials that his country would not allow its territory to be used to attack Iran, according to Reuters. Abiev spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Ahmad Vahidi, before meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on 12 March in Tehran to discuss a string of events that have severely strained ties between the two countries. At the forefront of the discussions was Azerbaijan’s recent purchase of $1.6 billion in arms from Israel, a move that Iranian officials have eyed with suspicion.
At the meeting with Vahidi, Abiev stressed his country wanted better cross-border cooperation with its southern neighbor, which hosts a large Azeri minority. “We want regional security and peace, and believe strengthening military ties between the two countries will guarantee that,” Reuters quoted him as saying. But Abiev also stood behind his country’s recent purchase of weapons from Iran’s enemy, Israel, citing a need to “improve its army,” according to the Associated Press. Last month, Azerbaijani officials reassured Tehran that the arms purchases were not directed against Iran and hinted they were instead in response to Armenia’s increasing military spending. Relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been stalled since a 1994 ceasefire ended the fighting in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh province. In response, Vahidi said his country could provide Iranian arms, according to the Associated Press.
A self-declared Roma, Peter Pollak, was one of 16 candidates elected from the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party headed by Igor Matovic in the 10 March elections to the Slovak parliament. The left-wing Smer party scored an overwhelming victory, taking 83 seats in the 150-member chamber.
Several Roma served in the Czechoslovak federal parliament between 1990 and 1992, but neither country has elected a Romani parliamentarian since going their separate ways in 1993. Roma remain scarce in politics at all levels in both countries.
In an interview with the Sme Slovak daily, Pollak said his support base did not lie in the poor, isolated settlements where many Slovak Roma live.
“If you look at our voters you’ll see integrated Roma, not Roma from the settlements. That’s how our campaign was set up, and the results confirm it,” he said.
Days ahead of a high-level meeting on Macedonia’s stalled EU membership bid, the EU has condemned the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in the country, the BBC reports. The tensions between majority Macedonians and the Albanian minority that constitutes 25 percent of the country's population escalated at the end of January and worsened after an off-duty police officer shot dead two ethnic Albanians in the town of Gostivar in late February.
The violence peaked in early March, when ethnic Macedonian and Albanian youths attacked each other and passers-by with baseball bats and knives. More than 20 people were arrested in connection to the attacks, and security measures have been tightened across the country.
According to the Macedonian Information Agency, Peter Stano, the spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule, praised Macedonian politicians’ denunciations of the violence and said “their commitment to the rule of law” should help “restore order in the country.” Fule is due to visit the country on 15 March for talks with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on the country's slow progress toward EU membership.
Climate change will be a major driver of migration and worsen conflicts over resources in Central Asia in coming decades, a new report by the Asian Development Bank predicts.
While densely populated areas of South and Southeast Asia are at highest risk of social disruption and migration associated with climate change, landlocked Central Asia will not be immune, the report says. Indeed, the drying of the Aral Sea coupled with a long drought in the 1990s had devastating effects in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan. More than one-fifth of the region’s population, some 250,000 people, emigrated to Kazakhstan and Russia between 1999 and 2001, according to the bank, which counts all countries of Central and West Asia except Iran as members.
Dry conditions may persist in many parts of Central Asia in the future, with consequences including salinization, land degradation, water stress, and desertification.
Climate change is only one of many factors driving population movements in Central Asia, a region that “has been heavily impacted by international migration,” the report states, noting that after the Soviet Union’s collapse, “many Central Asians returned home, while ethnic Russians fled to [the] Russian Federation.”
Poverty and lack of opportunity push labor migration from such countries as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. On the other hand, “Labor migration is widely acknowledged as a positive factor for development for the whole region,” the report says. Since migration is a transnational process, the report argues that governments should arrive at agreements on such issues as freedom of movement and temporary labor migration.