April 1 (Reuters) - Following are key facts about Albania, Croatia and Macedonia, the Balkan countries hoping to be invited to join NATO this week. All three already have small contingents of troops serving in United Nations and NATO-led missions.
POPULATION: 3.6 million (estimate), of which 95 percent are ethnic Albanians. Minorities include Greeks, Vlachs and Roma.
RECENT HISTORY: Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha ruled with an iron fist after World War Two, closing Albania off to the world and building a massive arsenal for a capitalist invasion that never came. Communism fell in 1990 and democratic norms have taken time to establish, with one spell of anarchy.
AREA: 28,748 sq km, with 362 km of mostly untouched coastline. It borders Montenegro, Kosovo, Greece, and faces Italy across the Adriatic Sea.
ECONOMY: Albania is one of Europe’s poorest countries, with a large grey economy and many families reliant on remittances from relatives working abroad. The government hopes to maintain the strong growth rates of recent years by cutting red tape and wooing foreign investors otherwise deterred by a reputation for energy shortages, bad roads and corruption. MILITARY: Military service is still compulsory but due to be abolished by 2010, making way for a professional army of 14,500 people. Albania is already selling obsolete Soviet and Chinese-made tanks, planes and guns for scrap, and plans to modernise through purchases suitable to its rugged, often inaccesible terrain.
POPULATION: 4.4 million (2001 census), of which nearly four million are ethnic Croats. Minorities include Serbs, Italians, Slovenes, Hungarians, Muslims and Albanians.
RECENT HISTORY: Croatia left Socialist Yugoslavia in 1991, waging an independence war with its ethnic Serb minority and the Yugoslav army until 1995. Reformers ousted hardline nationalists in 2000 and set about bringing the country towards NATO and European Union membership. Croatia hopes to join the EU by 2011.
AREA: 56,538 sq km (21,829 sq miles). Croatia, shaped like a boomerang, is bordered by Slovenia in the northwest, Hungary in the north, Serbia in the east, Bosnia and Montenegro in the southeast, with Italy across the sea.
ECONOMY: Driven by tourism, state investments and lending-based personal consumption. The kuna currency is kept in a tightly managed float, worth roughly 7.25/30 to the euro and 4.60 to the U.S. dollar.
MILITARY: Croatia abolished military service this year and aims to trim the army to around 16,000 professional soldiers. It also plans to invest around 2 billion euros in modernising the armed forces by 2015.
POPULATION: Two million (estimate) of which 65 percent are ethnic Macedonians and 25 percent ethnic Albanians. Other minorities include Turkish, Roma and Serbs.
RECENT HISTORY: Since breaking away from Yugoslavia without bloodshed in 1991, the country has been locked in a dispute with Greece over the name Macedonia, also the name of a northern Greek province. Athens threatens to veto its invitation to NATO and its progress towards the EU if Macedonia does not change its name to Greece’s satisfaction. Not getting in could jeopardise fragile internal stability and anger the Albanian minority, which rebelled in 2001 and sees NATO and EU membership as a path to more rights.
AREA: 25,333 sq km. Landlocked Macedonia is bordered by Kosovo and Serbia in the north, Bulgaria in the east, Greece in the south and Albania in the west.
ECONOMY: Macedonia lags the rest of the former Yugoslav republics in attracting foreign investment. Unemployment and a large grey economy are major issues.
MILITARY: Macedonia abolished compulsory service in 2006, and has downsized its army to 7,800 professional soldiers. Old equipment has been mostly scrapped, and the country plans small but focused investment in new and more efficient arms.
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