Albanian rebels agree to back caretaker government
But they still want Berisha sacked
March 21, 1997
Web posted at: 7:50 p.m. EST (0050 GMT)
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Rebel leaders controlling southern
Albania have decided not to set up a government to usurp
power from President Sali Berisha, even though Berisha missed
a deadline they set for him to step aside.
Representatives from about a dozen rebel-held regions met in
Tepelena Friday and repeated their demand that Berisha be
replaced by a special multiparty presidential committee,
before elections to be held by June.
But they backed away from a threat to withdraw support for
the caretaker government headed by Prime Minister Bashkim
Fino and set up a rival presidential council to rule in the
south unless Berisha resigned by Thursday.
In a statement released after their meeting, the rebels said
they were ready to cooperate with Fino.
Fino has rejected demands to force Berisha to leave before
the elections. The president has said he'll step aside if his
Rebels want role in political talks
Many Albanians blame Berisha for not stopping shady pyramid
investment schemes that collapsed in January, wiping out many
families' life savings and instigating the current violence.
Many towns in the region appear to be run by local gangs, all
armed to the teeth with weapons looted from army barracks.
While backing away from a threat of a separate government,
rebel leaders are demanding a voice in national political
They also want Fino's government to "neutralize" institutions
they believe are propping up Berisha, including the state-run
media, and want Fino to assume control of the secret and
regular police forces.
Italy is sending emergency aid
The Italian government said Friday it is preparing to send
emergency health supplies, including medicine, to Albania, at
Fino's request. The supplies, enough to aid 300,000 people
for a month, will be flown to Tirana this weekend, according
to a statement from the foreign ministry in Rome.
Italy also repatriated more Albanian "undesirables" on Friday
as bad weather in the Adriatic caused a lull in the arrival
of refugees. A group of 41 Albanians was flown back to Tirana
from the southern Italian port of Brindisi, and another 80
were to be repatriated later in the day.
The repatriated Albanians either escaped from prison during
the recent upheavals or had broken Italian laws since they
arrived. Friday's repatriations would bring the total to more
than 300 since the latest exodus began.
Nearly 11,000 refugees have arrived in Italy since March 13
in a flotilla of more than 130 rusty boats.
Friday flights into Tirana delayed
In Albania's capital of Tirana, the airport remained open
after the first flight in a week left for Sofia, Bulgaria, on
Thursday. But no planes were flying on Friday.
Albanian Airlines, which had promised to resume scheduled
services on Friday with flights to Rome and Bologna in Italy,
said the plane that flew to Sofia was undergoing repairs in
the Bulgarian capital.
Western airlines have said they will not resume services
until Monday at the earliest.
NATO evacuation option dropped
U.S. officials, meanwhile, said the option of using a
large-scale NATO force to assist in evacuating Americans from
the country was dropped from consideration after it became
clear Americans could be rescued with U.S. helicopters.
A NATO force was one of several options considered by
President Clinton's senior advisers last week as Albania
dissolved into chaos with hundreds of Americans at risk.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright raised the NATO option
at the end of a discussion with other administration
officials, a senior administration official said Friday. The
idea was never put forward as a proposal for action or in the
form of a position paper, one official said.
Correspondent Steve Hurst contributed to this report.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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