Albanian rebels meet after president ignores ultimatum
March 21, 1997
Web posted at: 6:40 p.m. EST (2340 GMT)
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Rebel leaders in southern Albania
were gathering on Friday to decide their next course of
action after President Sali Berisha ignored their ultimatum
U.S. officials, meanwhile, said the option of using a large-
scale NATO force to assist in evacuations 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.
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.
Representatives of 13 towns in the south held by rebels who
rose up against the government last month were due to meet in
the town of Tepelena, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of
Tirana, to determine their next move after a Thursday
deadline they set for Berisha to quit passed.
They had threatened to withdraw support for the new premier,
Bashkim Fino, who has rejected their demand that Berisha
resign before elections.
Many Albanians blame Berisha for not stopping shady pyramid
savings schemes that operated for more than three years until
they collapsed earlier this year, swallowing the life savings
of thousands of families, especially in the more prosperous
The rebels have threatened to set up a rival presidential
council to challenge the president's authority in the south,
where many towns appear to be run by local gangs, all armed
to the teeth with weapons looted from army barracks at the
start of the uprising.
Albanian political party leaders, now part of the all-party
government taking the country up to elections by June, have
come out against using force to remove Berisha, saying the
democratic process will decide.
Italy 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 on Friday.
The repatriated Albanians either escaped from prison during
the recent upheavals or broke 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.
The European Union said it could provide humanitarian aid for
Albania within three days but only if the safety of relief
workers was secured.
Correspondent Steve Hurst and Reuters contributed to this report.
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