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Albania: Government Asks OSCE To Delay Mission

Vienna, 5 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Albania has unexpectedly told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that Tirana is having second thoughts about a top-level mission which was supposed to fly to Tirana today. OSCE tells RFE/RL that the message from Tirana arrived at Vienna headquarters this morning, just as the team was supposed to leave for the airport to fly directly to Tirana.

The message said the Tirana government thought the timing might be "inappropriate" and suggested the team delay its trip.

An OSCE spokesman said it was unclear whether Albania's new attitude also extended to another high-level OSCE mission, led by Austria's former chancellor Franz Vranitzky, which is scheduled to go to Tirana tomorrow.

The team which was preparing to fly to Albania's capital today represents the "troika" of states which control the day-to-day activities of the OSCE. It is led by Ambassador William Fris-Moeller, representing Denmark, which currently holds the OSCE chair. The others members are Ambassador Jerzy Nowak of Poland and Ambassador Raymond Kunz of Switzerland. The OSCE press officer, Melissa Fleming, was to accompany them.

The team, led by Austria's former Vranitzky, leaving tomorrow, will consist of about ten experts selected from several OSCE countries. The OSCE said today the team would stay in Tirana for about two days. A spokesman tells RFE/RL that the team is not expected to go to the south of Albania, where most of the unrest is centered.

In addition to the main team, the delegation includes representatives of the United States, Russia, Italy, Greece and the European Union. An OSCE spokesman said the team will draw up a list of "fundamental things" the government of President Sali Berisha and his senior officials, including the police and military authorities, could do to reduce unrest and return to democracy.

"Albania appears to be on the brink of civil war," an OSCE spokesman told RFE/RL. He added, "All democratic forces in the OSCE believe urgent action must be taken to reduce the temperature. But any measures taken must be in accordance with basic democratic principles."

The OSCE spokesman said the Vranitzky mission was being rushed to Tirana "because all the reports we hear suggest that democracy is being pushed to the sidelines, as the authorities try to control the unrest."

The OSCE intervention is modeled on the mission to Belgrade at the end of last year, led by Spain's former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, at the time of the mass demonstrations against the Government's refusal to recognise opposition victories in municipal elections. In a whirlwind trip of only two days, the Gonzalez team interviewed government and opposition figures, and produced a report demanding that the Government accept the opposition victories.

The OSCE said Vranitzky's mission is "rather more complicated." The cause of the current unrest is that thousands of people lost their life savings in a corrupt financial scheme.

"Of course there is a background of political discontent," the OSCE spokesman said," but the immediate cause is the heavy financial loss." He said that in a country as poor as Albania it would not be easy to find a solution.

President Berisha has an uneasy relationship with the OSCE. The observers it sent to the 1996 elections issued a report casting doubt on the validity of the elections in several constituencies. Their sharp criticism was published by most European newspapers. Berisha rejected the OSCE criticisms, and refused to hold new elections.