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Italian leader promises Albanians help is coming

April 13, 1997
Web posted at: 8:57 p.m. EDT (0057 GMT)

VLORA, Albania (CNN) -- Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi arrived Sunday in Albania with the message that help is on the way for this beleaguered country.

Food and medical supplies have begun to trickle into Albania, and Prodi pledged that a multinational security force slated to deploy Tuesday could aid the country's "rebirth."

"The situation will really change for the better next week when most of the force is deployed," Prodi told about 10,000 cheering Albanians in Vlora.

The main part of the eight-nation, U.N.-backed force will begin arriving Tuesday at the western port of Durres to protect the shipments. About 100 Italian troops arrived Friday and an advance French unit reached Albania on Sunday.

Prodi said the 6,000 U.N. troops could help Europe's poorest nation restore law and order.


Dawn of history

"The mission is called 'Alba' (dawn)," Prodi said. "And this could be the dawn in the history of Albania, the rebirth of Albania."

Prodi's offer to lead the rebuilding effort has gone a long way to repair the bitterness caused by the collision last month of an Italian Navy ship and a vessel filled with Albanian refugees bound for Italy. As many as 80 people died in the incident.

The U.N. mission is to protect emergency aid shipments to a populace still in shock from the sudden eruption of violence in the country this spring.

Albania has descended into anarchy since the collapse of get-rich-quick pyramid schemes three months ago left many of the tiny nation's residents penniless.

Vlora is the birthplace of the insurgency that has swept the country and jeopardized the regime of President Sali Berisha. More than 360 people have been killed during the violence, and 13,000 Albanians have fled to nearby Italy.

Prodi, who was protected by heavily armed guards, met Berisha Sunday and said the Italian-led force will stay one month after elections are held in Albania. A caretaker government is planning to hold elections in June.

"Italy wants to help Albania to reconstruct the state and to have quick democratic, transparent elections," Prodi told a news conference in Tirana with Prime Minister Bashkim Fino.

But he added: "I don't want to interfere in internal Albanian policy. ... We are not here to ... make the situation worse."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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