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Albania: OSCE Envoy Meets Prime Minister; Insurgents To Join Talks

Tirana, 14 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - An envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Franz Vranitzky, and Albanian new Prime Minister Bashkim Fino are meeting aboard the Italian naval vessel, San Giorgio, off the Albanian port of Durres.

An OSCE aide aboard the boat says representatives of the Albanian insurgents are due to join the talks later today.

European Union (EU) foreign ministers will discuss the Albanian situation this weekend at an informal meeting in the Dutch town of Apeldoorn.

NATO ambassadors met briefly in Brussels today to review the situation in Albania but limited the discussion to an exchange of information. The head of NATO's military commission told German television no military intervention is planned for the moment. He says any operation from outside the country would need some kind of legal foundation such as a mandate from the OSCE.

Much of Albania remains in chaos today. The Associated Press reports gunmen with heavy weapons, apparently anti-aircraft guns, fired from hills outside Tirana in the direction of U.S. helicopters evacuating Americans, including Albanians with U.S. permanent residence permits from a U.S. Embassy compound.

Hospital officials in Tirana say random shooting in the capital overnight resulted in the deaths of at least nine people, including two boys aged four and ten, and the wounding of seven others. Reports are coming in of similar shooting deaths as well as torchings of government buildings in the northern city of Shkoder.

Guards deserted Tirana's central prison yesterday, allowing 600 inmates, including the country's last Stalinist president, Ramiz Alia, to escape. The guards later returned to loot the prison.

The whereabouts of Albanian President Sali Berisha remain unclear. Berisha's son Sokul, 25, and Argita, 19, arrived yesterday in Italy aboard a refugee-laden ferry from Durres.

The Italian foreign ministry says an Italian military helicopter was hit by small arms fire today while providing cover for the evacuation in Tirana but that there were no injuries. Italy says it has evacuated 1,000 foreign nationals and some Albanians. Most are still at sea bound for Brindisi aboard the San Giorgio and another naval vessel, the San Giusto. Former defense minister Safet Zhulali, his wife and 14-year-old daughter were among 65 Albanians abaord a cargo ship that docked in the Italian port of Brindisi today. At least 14 Albanian naval vessels, including patrol boats and antiquated warships, reached Italy today.

In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it has called on Greece and Italy to allow Albanians fleeing the violence and anarchy to enter and stay as long as necessary. Spokesman Kris Janowski says UNHCR is helping the Italian and Greek governments to prepare for a possible influx. Spokeswoman Maki Shinohara says UNHCR is urging Serbia to be "a little more generous" in letting Albanian refugees cross the closed border into Kosovo.