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Albania: Red Cross Suspends Aid Mission

Kakavia, Greece; 27 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Gunfire by rival Albanian gangs today forced the International Committee for the Red Cross to suspend plans to begin its first major emergency relief operation in the nation's lawless south.

A truck carrying nine tons of food and cleaning supplies turned back at Greece's Kakavia border crossing with Albania after an advance team reported gun battles between the bands in Gjirokastra, the planned first stop of a mission to orphanages, hospitals and homes for the elderly through southern Abania.

Red Cross coordinator John Roche says the situation is too tense to allow aid to go through but that a new attempt is due tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Italy today continued expelling Albanians it deems undesirable, returning 271 refugees to Tirana on military helicopters. This brings the number of repatriated refugees to ten percent of the 12,000 Albanians who have fled to Italy this month. Italy says many who fled were criminals masquerading as refugees.

In Tirana today, European Union military, political and security officials met Albanian interim Prime Minister Bashkim Fino and other government ministers at the start of a 10-day visit to determine what help Albania needs to restore law and order. An Albanian foreign ministry spokesman says foreign minister Arian Starova stressed to the EU delegation the need for a quick decision on sending foreign military assistance to Albania.