Albania's army pushes south to crush uprising
March 5, 1997
Web posted at: 1:32 p.m. EST (1832 GMT)
SARANDA, Albania (CNN) -- Albanian jets attacked a town
outside the port city of Saranda Wednesday, witnesses said,
as soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled
through the south in a government effort to quash an armed
Greece had begun sealing its border with Albania, fearful the
unrest next door will send refugees fleeing its way.
Eyewitnesses reported clashes between insurgents and army
units between Saranda and Delvine, 20 km (12 miles) to the
east, throughout the morning.
An Albanian fighter plane was seen flying over the village of
Livena, about 6 miles (10 km) east of Saranda. Smoke rose
from the area just after it passed, they said.
Another witness said an Albanian warplane dropped a bomb next
to two houses in the village.
About 400 families, most belonging to Albania's ethnic Greek
minority, live in Livena. It was not clear if anyone was
A witness in Saranda said government helicopters were firing
on the city, while other witnesses said rebels had seized an
army tank and were driving it through the streets.
They said hundreds of heavily-armed insurgents had set up a
defense line in the hills at the entrance to the town, 120
miles (190 kilometers) south of Tirana, Albania's capital.
Capital calm, journalists still blocked
Tirana itself was calm on Wednesday, the third day of
emergency government measures including a curfew and press
censorship. Authorities continue to ban journalists from
traveling to the southern part of the country.
A Defense Ministry statement said that army chief of staff
General Sheme Kosova had been replaced by Major General Adem
Copani, President Sali Berisha's personal military adviser.
A statement from the prime minister's office published in the
newspaper Rilindja Demokratike said Kosova had been fired for
failing to ensure adequate security at military posts stormed
and looted of their weapons by "terrorists."
Greece sends troops to border
Greece was sending troops to its border with Albania. The
Athens government has ruled out military intervention but
said it was concerned about some 300,000 ethnic Greeks living
in southern Albania.
The primarily Orthodox Christian Greeks are the largest
ethnic minority in Albania and have long complained of
discrimination by Albania's mostly Muslim and Catholic
Albania denies pilots told to shoot at civilians
Albania denied that two of its air force pilots who defected
to southern Italy had been given orders to shoot at civilians
as part of operations to crack down on the uprising.
A Defense Ministry statement said the pilots, who landed
their MiG-15 plane at an Italian base and asked for asylum on
Tuesday, had been on a reconnaissance flight.
One of the two pilots told Italian reporters they switched
course rather than carry out orders to open fire.
More than 20 people have been reported killed since Friday in
the southern port of Vlora and other southern towns abandoned
by the authorities after rioters raided army and police
The protests in the south were triggered by the collapse of
high-risk investment funds in which nearly every Albanian
Anger has been directed at the government for not warning
people away from the pyramid schemes.
- Albania called on the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to postpone its mission to
Tirana. Earlier, former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky
had announced plans to lead an OSCE delegation to hold talks
Thursday in Tirana with all political groups.
- Pope John Paul II urged pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square to
pray for Albania, where Catholics make up 10 percent of the
Correspondent Siobhan Darrow and Reuters contributed to this report.
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