Many Albanian prisoners took advantage of chaos to escape
March 21, 1997
Web posted at: 7:50 p.m. EST (0050 GMT)
From Correspondent Betsy Aaron
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Italians Friday began repatriating
about 160 Albanians who have sought asylum in Italy because
of their country's violence. Italy is deporting those who
have broken Italian laws or who escaped from Albanian jails.
In most cases, Albanian prisoners were able to take advantage
of the chaos that broke out in January, mostly in the south,
as the result of failed pyramid schemes. Most Albanians lost
all their savings after investing.
Italy is allowing nearly 11,000 refugees to remain in the
country temporarily, but, at least 300 Albanians must return
to their homeland.
Most of Albania's prisons are now empty, and many have been
destroyed in the last two months, along with many other
Until this week, a few Tirana jails withstood the
pandemonium. But according to prison guard Bardhyl Lloha,
even they are empty now. His Prison No. 313, he said, was
the last to remain intact.
Prisoners vacate jail in Tirana
The country's defense minister already had escaped to Italy,
Lloha said, and prison guards at No. 313 were desperately
trying to maintain order. The three-story jail held 620
prisoners, and 170 of them had been convicted, mostly for
murder. The rest were being held for investigation.
On Lloha's side were 37 officers, plus his chief. All were
at work late Wednesday night when the trouble began.
"The police were changing shifts when the prisoners captured
the policemen," he said. "The policemen tried to restore
order, but we were attacked from two sides -- the prisoners
in here and their friends outside.
"As the officer responsible for this prison, I want to stress
we didn't get any support from anybody," he said.
Resistance lasted all night
The fighting went on through the night and through most of
Thursday before all the prisoners escaped. No one was
Lloha said that at the end of the fracas, he was
"disillusioned" that nobody -- no state officials, no
soldiers -- supported his force.
"I will not blame anybody, but when we needed help, no help
came from the state," he said.
"We tried to keep our morale high that night. We were the
last prison to hold out. But where was the army to help us?
I don't think in any country in the world the police support
the army. It's the other way around!"
Work has begun to repair and reopen Prison No. 313, although
there is little money to pay for materials and to cover the
costs of feeding and clothing the prisoners, when and if they
But it will be more difficult repair morale, and to restore
the dignity to the few men who fought for their prison, their
city and their country.
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