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Albanian Leaders Invite Deserters Back, Seek Europe’s Help

Tue., March 25, 1997

Albanian officials appealed Monday for deserters to return to their barracks and help restore order, while Europe looked for ways to aid the Balkan nation without being drawn into its chaos.

Premier Bashkim Fino flew to Italy on Monday seeking European Union assistance to end the violence, which began as anger over failed investment schemes and turned into armed insurrection earlier this month.

Fleeing the anarchy, nearly 12,000 Albanians have clambered aboard unseaworthy vessels and sought refuge in Italy. That escape route is closing, though, with Italy deciding Monday to bar Albanian boats from its ports, news reports said.

In a sign it would forgive deserters, the Defense Ministry called on soldiers who had “left temporarily” to return to their barracks and “protect freedom, independence and territorial integrity.”

It’s not clear how many of Albania’s 45,000 soldiers have deserted. However, with the exception of the capital and a few areas in the north loyal to President Sali Berisha, few police and army officers remain under government command.

Before leaving for Italy, Fino said his caretaker government’s first priority was to get help reorganizing Albania’s police and army. He will also ask for humanitarian aid.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels decided to send a team of two dozen civilian and military experts to Albania to provide advice on rebuilding the country’s disintegrating infrastructure.

They also agreed to send $2.3 million in immediate food and medical aid, most of which has been earmarked for Albanian orphanages, old-age homes and hospitals.

The foreign ministers struggled with how best to protect aid shipments into Albania, and several ministers expressed reservations about sending a full-scale military mission to Albania.

Restoring order is a priority for Fino, but southern rebels refuse to surrender their weapons unless Berisha resigns. He has said he will remain president until elections are held, probably in June, and step down only if his Democratic Party loses.

Although all parties are represented in Fino’s “Government of National Reconciliation,” Berisha’s Democratic Party still controls Parliament, the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and secret police.

Italy on Monday sent a plane with six tons of medical aid, but also barred Albanian boats from its ports, news reports said.

Italian Premier Romano Prodi said in Rome after meeting Fino that the two countries would reach an accord “to patrol the Adriatic in order to completely control the flow of refugees.” That meant blocking the coast, he said.

At the Greek Embassy in Tirana, meanwhile, hundreds of people jostled to get into the compound, some clawing and screaming at the gates in hopes of getting visas to fly out of the country.

Tags: unrest

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