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Albania: Decision On Foreign Protection Force Expected Soon

Rome, 25 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Italy says it expects a decision to be made within days on the size and aims of a foreign protection force to be sent to Albania to guard a European Union relief mission. But Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, speaking after EU foreign ministers met Albanian interim Prime Minister Bashkim Fino in Rome today, insists Italy will not intervene on its own.

Italy has been at the forefront of international efforts to resolve the unrest, which Rome says is now being used as an excuse by Albanians to head for a better life in Italy on a flotilla of boats.

Dini signed a bilateral accord with Albanian Foreign Minister Arian Starova today allowing for Italian naval patrols of the Adriatic Sea to block an exodus that has already brought 12,000 Albanians to Italy in the last two weeks.

Dini says the aim is strict patrolling with the intention of sending back everyvessel that turns up and is not carrying genuine refugees. Italy's navy said today its warships have succeeded in stopping the influx of Albanian vessels.

An Italian military transport plane arrived in Tirana today carrying some 100 Albanians who had sought refuge in Italy but had been rejected. Another plane, carrying 40 tons of French humanitarian aid, also landed in Tirana today, bringing medicine and food.

The International Red Cross says that as a trial run for larger deliveries, it will begin distributing 12 tons of food and medicines beginning Thursday to hospitals, old people's homes and orphanages from a Red Cross depot in the Greek town of Konitsa, near the border with Albania.