French, Italian troops lead mission to Albania
April 15, 1997
Web posted at: 1:47 p.m. EDT (1747 GMT)
DURRAS, Albania (CNN) -- The first phase of a multinational
aid operation got under way shortly after sunrise Tuesday,
when a French warship arrived in the Albanian port of Durras.
The hundreds of French and Italian troops who disembarked are
part of Operation Alba, designed to bring relief to the
impoverished Balkan nation plagued by political chaos.
"The government of Albania extends it s best thanks in the
name of the Albanian people for the readiness they have
demonstrated in helping us at this delicate time," Albanian
Prime Minister Bashkim Fino said in a statement.
The operation began on a note of caution. Intelligence reports warned of an impending guerrilla attack, and French marines swept the port area before giving an all-clear.
Braving strong winds and cold temperatures, 450 well-armed
French marines rolled out at Durras, while nearly 200 Italian paratroopers landed at an airport near the capital Tirana. An Italian transport ship unloaded another 270 soldiers, while 250 more waited their turn to come ashore from a Spanish vessel.
The troops who arrived Tuesday will set up points of entry at
Durras and Tirana for the remainder of the humanitarian
force, made up of 6,000 troops from eight nations. Greek and
Turkish troops will join the Italians and French next week.
Their first task will be to secure the 20-mile highway
between Tirana and Durras to protect aid deliveries. They
hope they won't have to use the heavy firepower they brought
Different goals than in Bosnia
Military officials, led by the Italians, point out that
Albania is not Bosnia -- and that they have taken on less in this mission -- in the hope of accomplishing more.
Unlike Bosnia, the Albanian mission is starting out with
clearly defined objectives -- to protect the delivery of
humanitarian aid and to help bring calm so this troubled country can move toward planned elections in June.
But food aid alone is not going to cure Albania's turmoil and
suffering. And there's concern among relief agencies that too
much food could create yet more problems.
"It's clear that we have to be extremely careful with not, for instance, flooding the country with food because this would only attract bandits." said Nina Winquist of the
Most Albanians say they want nothing more than an end to the
spiral of violence and anarchy which brought death to
But given that three-quarters of the army's weapons are still
thought to be missing -- and possibly in the hands of a once
widely insurgent population -- stability may be some way off.
And many Albanians say they want the new force to do more
than help deliver food. Disarming the rebels, some say,
should be first on the list.
In Vlora, a center of the rebellion, insurgency leaders told
crowds of supporters that President Sali Berisha and his
supporters planned to attack the city.
"Go and get your guns and take up defense positions," Albert
Shyti told those gathered in the city center. A similar warning of an attack in February never materialized.
Vlora, 50 miles from the capital, is one of the towns to be
secured by the humanitarian troops, who for now appear to be
receiving a cordial welcome. But experience shows that
military interventions, no matter how well-intentioned from
the start can end in grief.
Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.
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