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Albania: President Says Disarmament Will Take time

Paris, 24 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Albanian President Sali Berisha says order is slowly being restored to his country but cautioned that recovery of looted weapons will take time. Berisha told the French newspaper "Le Monde" today that force cannot be used to disarm ordinary citizens and that other solutions will have to be found. Berisha also again said he will resign if the opposition wins elections scheduled by June.

Today, Italy decided to bar Albanian boats carrying refugees from reaching Italian ports. Nearly 12,000 Albanians, fleeing chaos at home, have flooded into Italy in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Italy flew six tons of emergency aid to Albania today and and flew Albania's interim Prime Minister Bashkim Fino to Rome for talks on how Europe can help pull his country out of chaos.

The medical aid is being sent to the northern part of the country, which is under government control. The medical supplies arrived in Tirana just as the first Western airline landed there since the airport was closed eleven days ago as chaos increased in the country. More than 150 people have been killed since the end of last month when the country plunged into chaos after the collapse of shady investment schemes.

Albanian Prime Minster Bashkim Fino was holding talks later today with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to discuss international aid and the effect a mass exodus of Albanian refugees has had on Italy.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers met today to try and finalize plans to send emergency humanitarian aid to the Balkan country, possibly backed up by a small force of military police to ensure the security of aid convoys.

Over the weekend, Fino said his coalition government must give priority to stabilizing the country and resolving serious economic problems. Fino told our correspondent in Tirana political issues will have to wait since as he notes it was the Democratic Party-controlled parliament that gave a vote of confidence in the government of national reconciliation.

The Albanian Prime Minister told our correspondent in Tirana "all Albanians are armed and we have to disarm them."

Fino declined to explain how the authorities intend to go about recalling virtually the entire weapons stock of Albania's security forces looted earlier this month as the country collapsed into anarchy.

Last week President Berisha appointed Fino, a Socialist, to lead an interim national unity government ahead of elections in June.

Acknowleding the possibility that June may be too soon for early parliamentary elections, Fino says Albanians leaders must reach agreement prior to the elections which he insists must be democratic and peaceful.

Our correspondent asked Fino about the role in Albania's current foreign policy of the largely Albanian-populated province of Kosovo in neighboring Serbia. Fino responded that his government has already received greetings and "support" from the self-styled Albanian government of Kosovo and in turn supports the Kosovo government.

But the Albanian prime minister told RFE/RL that at the present time his government is above all interested in calming down the situation in Albania and, with EU and U.S. assistance, returning life to normal.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Reuters, Fino dismissed calls for President Berisha to quit, saying his resignation would cause a power vacuum in a country.