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Some Albania rebels agree to lay down arms


Parliament prepares for early elections

March 10, 1997
Web posted at: 7:25 p.m. EST (0025 GMT)

TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Albanian rebels from the southern city of Vlora told Italian officials Monday they would lay down their weapons in exchange for humanitarian aid.

The agreement also called for international monitoring of a nine-point agreement reached Sunday in Tirana by President Berisha and opposition leaders.

Their meeting with Italian ambassador to Albania Paolo Foresti took place off the coast of Albania, on board an Italian warship. The Italians invited the rebel leaders aboard in an effort to salvage a peace agreement, and keep their Adriatic neighbor from sliding into civil war.


"I think it's a clear message to everybody to try to reconciliate and to rebuild what has been destroyed, knowing that the international community -- certainly Italy, the European Union -- are willing to cooperate and help," said Foresti.

Other towns to follow Vlora's lead?

It was unclear whether the other towns held by rebels would join the agreement. Vlora was the first southern Albanian city where rebels took up arms after a series of pyramid investment schemes collapsed, costing thousands of Albanians their life savings. Many blame the government for not warning people away from the pyramid schemes -- and some claim it profited from the funds.

Most of the people who lost money live in southern Albania, an affluent area when compared to the northern part of the country.


The rebels had scoffed at President Sali Berisha's offer Sunday to form a coalition government with opposition parties, and to hold new elections. Instead of laying down arms, they continued their rampage through the south Sunday, taking control of several new towns and commandeering tanks and fighter jets.

Even Vlora may have trouble keeping its pledge. Rebels promised the Italian ambassador a gradual return to civil authority, but there is a lot of firepower already on the streets, and high spirits that could be hard to rein in.

Men fight in the streets over who gets to keep guns looted from the army. Trigger-happy, heavily armed citizens confront supposed spies -- although at one rebel checkpoint, the "spy" turned out to be one of their own.

Government gets cracking on its end of the deal

While the rebels were out at sea in negotiations, politicians in Albania's capital spent the day in meetings, as they tried to hammer out a new coalition government. The president doled out ministerial posts to his political foes.


Parliament was also in session to approve an amnesty to rebels who hand in their weapons within a week.

But what most people want to know is who will deal with the issue that triggered this popular uprising -- the collapsed pyramid funds. "If they don't give us our money back, we'll start fighting and it'll be worse than in Vlora," said one man. About a third of the country is waiting to see how their main question will be answered: Who will give them their money back?

Correspondent Siobhan Darrow contributed to this report.


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