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Albania: Italy Acknowledges Risk Of Aid Mission

Rome, 1 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Italy's Defense Minister, Beniamino Andreatta, today acknowledged a multi-national security mission into Albania will be risky, but he said it will go ahead within 10 days.

Andreatta said Italy needs time to put the force together.

Relations between Italy and Albania have been strained since Friday's sinking of an Albanian refugee ship in the Adriatic Sea. Four people drowned and 34 were rescued. Survivors said another 80 refugees are missing. The survivors also blamed an Italian coast guard ship for ramming their boat and causing it to sink.

Italian officials deny the charge, but Prime Minister Romai Prodi promised a full investigation into the incident. In an interview with DPA today, Albania's President Sali Berisha said he did not think the boat tragedy will put the aid mission at risk.

Under a UN-approved mission, an Italian-led force of 2,500 is to provide security for relief agencies providing aid to impoverished Albanians. Another force of 2,500 is to provide back-up. Romania is among those contributing personnel to the mission.