Tirana, 13 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Lawlessness was reported across Albania's north today as President Sali Berisha and all political parties appealed to Western European nations to intervene. Berisha and opposition parties said intervention by the Western European Union (WEU) military grouping was needed "to restore constitutional order and to preserve the country's integrity."
Earlier today, the WEU's permanent committee called on the organization to prepare for possible actions in Albania. It said operations could range "from humanitarian and evacuation missions to peace-maintenance or peace re-establishment missions."
The moves came shortly after military arms depots near the capital Tirana and other parts of the north were looted. News reports say the looting, which also struck commercial sites, was largely carried out by people seeking to arm themselves out of fear of growing anarchy.
Socialist leader Fatos Nano was reported among hundreds freed from a Tirana prison. Nano had been imprisoned for what rights groups said were politically motivated corrupton charges. Several deaths and tens of injuries were reported across Albania in random violence.
The Italian Navy has placed a warship at the disposal of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for talks with Albanian leaders tomorrow.
An OSCE delegation led by former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky flies from Vienna to the Italian city of Bari early tomorrow morning and then takes a military helicopter to the warship posted off the coast of Albania.
An OSCE spokesman said tonight Vranitzky expected to meet President Sali Berisha, the new prime minister Bashkim Fino, and other government officials on the warship. The spokesman said that in the circumstances it was unlikely that Vranitzky would be able to meet with rebel leaders.
Vranitzky is expected to return to Bari tomorrow evening.
The OSCE mission had been expected to fly to Tirana today for a two-day visit. The plans were canceled because of the closure of Tirana airport.
The latest unrest follows more than a week of arms looting in the south sparked by the recent collapse of several high risk investment schemes. Many southern rebels have demanded Berisha's resignation, blaming him for not protecting investors. A new coalition government, agreed by Berisha in an attempt to end unrest, was sworn in today.
Efforts to evacuate foreign nationals from Tirana have been complicated today by the closure of the city's airport. But several countries, including Britain and Russia, say they are going ahead with evacuation plans. A U.S. naval battle group is on standby in the Adriatic in order to help in evacuating American nationals.
Tritan Shehu, an aide to Albanian president Sali Berisha, today appealed to European countries to intervene militarily to end the spreading insurrection. Shehu says Albania's army is "totally paralyzed, non-existent."
The official Albanian ATA news agency says two people died in the southwestern town of Korca when local people stormed an army barracks to seize weapons and armored vehicles before setting out on a looting spree. Residents reached by phone today described chaotic scenes, with people firing widly in the air, pillaging shops and driving tanks through the streets.
In the northern city of Shkoder, at least five people were killed when a mob ransacked weapons from state arsenals last night.
Gunfire crackled in and around the capital Tirana today and food warehouses were looted. The city's airport was closed and was reportedly being pillaged this morning. Nevertheless, several countries, including Britain and Russia, said today they are going ahead with evacuation plans. Foreigners besieged airline offices.
An interim national reconciliation government is being created by new prime minister Bashkim Fino in a bid to end the revolt sparked by citizens losing money in failed high-risk investment schemes. But Fino today acknowledged that the country is on the verge of civil war. Our correspondent says Albanians in Munich who phoned relatives at home were told rebels are acting independently and there appears to be no single authority capable of imposing any agreement reached with the central authorities, or by foreign mediation.