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Albania concerned over pace of Italian-led force

April 7, 1997
Web posted at: 12:04 p.m. EDT (1604 GMT)

Latest developments:

TIRANA (CNN) -- Albania expressed concern on Monday about the slowness of deployment of an Italian-led military force to protect aid to the troubled Balkan state. Rome also faced domestic political turmoil over sending troops for "Operation Alba," the Italian word for sunrise.

Meanwhile, Albania was urging looters to return lethal chemicals and radioactive materials, some of them used in radars, that were seized from military bases during an insurrection last month.

On the political front, Albania's foreign minister, Arjan Starova, said there was concern about the pace of deployment of the military force.

"We'd like a speedy action. ...We want this force as soon as possible," Starova said. "But I have no doubt they will come."

Italy has said the force, approved by the U.N. Security Council on March 28, will start arriving in the week starting April 14.

Italy is expected to provide 2,000 to 2,500 troops, France 1,000, Greece 700, Turkey 500, Spain 300 to 500 and Romania 400. Austria and Denmark say they are also considering participation.

Starova said the nations taking part in the planned force were still debating where they would deploy troops. The forces plan to secure the northern port of Durras, Vlora in the rebel-held south and the airport in Tirana, Albania's capital.

Aid mission opposed

Troops would protect shipments of food and medicine needed in Europe's poorest state after lawless violence broke out following the collapse of shady savings schemes.

The Italian Parliament votes Tuesday and Wednesday on the mission, with Premier Romano Prodi expected to win approval despite opposition from Italy's Communist Refoundation party.

The communists, who are outside Prodi's center-left coalition but have given him the majority he needs on other issues, oppose the Albanian force. They contend anti-Italian sentiment in Albania would put Italian lives at risk.

Monday marks the 58th anniversary of the invasion of Albania by Italian troops under fascist leader Benito Mussolini during World War II.

U.N. relief agencies have warned that about 400,000 people may be threatened by hunger after the armed uprising pushed Albania to chaos.

Lethal chemicals stolen

Safety concerns were also heightened by the theft of toxic chemicals and radioactive materials taken from four military arsenals last month.

"They can kill. ... Please hand them back," Colonel Asllan Bushati told Albanian television on Sunday.

Bushati said the objects had no value or use for civilians.

The radioactive objects, some looking like square tiles and others like tiny capsules, contained strontium or cobalt, he said. Some parts were used in radars and remained radioactive for up to 30 years.

Barrels containing chemicals that could sting eyes or skin and make breathing difficult had also been stolen, he said.

Bushati also urged people not to abandon the radioactive objects in fields. "They pass from grass to livestock," he said, warning that the radiation could then end up in beef and pass to humans.

According to a 1996 report by Jane's Information Group, an organization of British-based defense experts, Albania has chemicals, like tear gas, for riot control but has no programs for developing chemical weapons.

It also says there is no evidence that Albania's former Communist rulers, who ruled until 1990, ever sought to develop biological weapons. Albania has no nuclear weapons.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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