Czech humanitarian aid and businesses aim to restore the Balkans

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Following a Czech-Greek initiative to resolve the Kosovo crisis last year, the Czech Republic and Greece have once again agreed to join forces. Their goal this time is to increase commercial trade in the Balkans, in particular in Yugoslavia, and in this way help revive the region's economy. More from Dita Asiedu:

During a conference held in the Moravian town of Olomouc on Friday attended by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and his Greek counterpart, Jorges Papandreu, the two ministers decided to support each other's business projects and share know-how. According to Mr. Kavan, cooperation with Greece is very important for Czech firms, as it increases their chances of getting ahead in the Balkans and participating in the economic reconstruction of Yugoslavia. Greece, in turn, would benefit from the knowledge and experience of the Czechs in the fields of transport and energy supply.

Following the conference, both foreign ministers joined Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman for an official dinner. Here, Mr. Papandreu told the Czechs that the new Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, has agreed to their business plans in the region. A Czech-Greek business council, set up in Soluna, is to handle all joint projects in Yugoslavia and Southeastern Europe. Some of the more important projects include the reconstruction of the Kolumbara power plant, destroyed in NATO air strikes.

Politically, the leaders agreed on the need for the extensive autonomy of Kosovo and Montenegro within Yugoslavia. However, discussions focused not only on the economic and political situation in the Balkans, but also covered Greece's support of the Czech Republic's entry to the EU. As Greece is already an EU member, as well as a member of the Stability Pact, its co-operation and support could be extremely advantageous to the Czech Republic.

During the war in the Balkans, the number of Czech businesses operating in the region was drastically reduced. In the 1980's, for example, trade between the Czech Republic and Yugoslavia amounted to 800 million USD annually. Today, the figure is roughly 100 million USD. A boost in trade would therefore not only be a boost for Yugoslavia, but also for the Czech Republic.

Although significant Czech trade has not yet made its way to Yugoslavia, Czech humanitarian aid--which includes ten buses for Belgrade's public transport system, funding for reconstructing three bridges and the restoration of a hospital--has been rather generous. On Sunday, the Yugoslav presidential advisor Dragana Dzuricova expressed her country's gratitude, noting that Yugoslavia has always maintained good business and political relations with the Czechs and expects to see increased trade in the near future.