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Many Albanian prisoners took advantage of chaos to escape

prison 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 public buildings.

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 killed.

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 are recaptured.

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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