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Albania: 22 Killed In Arms Depot Explosion

Tirana, 30 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Police say a weapons depot exploded in Central Albania today, killing at least 22 people. The cause of the explosion in Burell, northeast of the capital, was not immediately known. But looters have continued to ransack depots, often setting off explosions when they light torches to illuminate the warehouses.

Today's incident, like many of the others, took place in an underground tunnel.

Last week, eight people were killed when looters firebombed a weapons depot near Lezha. Depots have also exploded in Gjirokastra and Berat.

Hundreds of thousands of weapons have fallen into the hands of civilians and criminal gangs since anti-government protests over failed pyramid investment schemes spiraled into widespread rebellion across Albania.

Meanwhile in New York, Albania's ambasssador to the U.N., Pellumb Kulla, says the situation in his country has improved since the arrival of an Italian-led force to protect aid supplies and promote stability.

Kulla spoke at a news conference yesterday chaired by Italian ambassador Paolo Fulci. Fulci submitted a progress report to the U.N. Security Council on the deployment of the force. He said it is meeting the humanitarian and security needs of Albania.

Kulla said relief supplies are being delivered to all segments of society. He said limitations on press freedoms are being lifted. He said all schools will be open by today. Many schools reopened yesterday under the protection of armed police.

Kulla also said the 5,400 members of the multi-national force have "positively inspired" Albania's army and police in dealing with the chaos.

Referring to elections, Kulla said all political parties want to go to the polls on June 29. But Kulla said there are still areas of the country where even the government has no access. Albanian President Sali Berisha declared yesterday that general elections are "vital" and should take place by the end of June.