Albanian Daily News
Govt prepares to host Montenegrin refugees

Albanian Economic Tribune - Jan 14, 2000

TIRANA - The government and international organisations are preparing to deal with a new refugee crisis, in a worst-case scenario, if a conflict between Serbia and independence-minded Montenegro erupts in the next few months.

The Ministry of Public Order has taken over two camps to accommodate potential refugees in the district of Durres. The centres were set up last year to accommodate the Kosovo refugees, when around half a million Kosovar Albanians streamed into the country to escape a crackdown by the Serbian army and security forces.

Minister Spartak Poci visited last week the 5,000-bed camp in Rrushkull, 37 kilometres (23 miles) west of Tirana. The camp was established in a national green park area, and is brand new because it was finished when the Kosovo refugees started to return home after NATO and the United Nations took over Kosovo in June from the departing Serbian troops.

A possible inflow of Montenegrin refugees here - it is highly unlikely that refugees from Serbia, would seek shelter in Albania - would greatly affect the country trying to recover from the three-month long refugees crisis of their 500,000-strong Kosovar kin. However, the expected Montenegrin crisis would have a much smaller influence, as the whole population of Montenegro is half a million.

The relations between Albania and Montenegro have strengthened in recent months, and several bilateral agreements have been signed. The only border check-point, at Hani i Hotit, remains sealed by Yugoslav forces under Belgrade’s orders. Also an agreement to link the two neighbouring territories by telephone optical fibre cables has remained only on paper. The cable on the Albanian side has been extended to the border, but the works on the Montenegrin side have been stopped by the federal troops.

Poci said the camp would welcome Montenegrin refugees if there were a conflict between Belgrade and the Western-minded tiny Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. In the meantime the camp will serve as training ground for the police force.

The Minister of Public Order Spartak Poci also took over from the local administration another refugee camp in the nearby Katund i Ri (New Village), some 34 kilometres from Tirana.

"We must take care of these camps, as they could serve as accommodation centres for refugees from Montenegro, in a worst-case scenario conflict between that republic and Serbia," Poci said.

In the meantime, on Monday, an American ship arrived at the port of Durres with 6,500 tonnes of flour. The cargo is a donation from the United States government and will serve to support Albania in dealing with the refugees.

Daily Gazeta Shqiptare quoted an official from the Alaska Cargo Company, owner of the vessel, as saying that the shipment is just a fraction of the aid that will be frozen, awaiting the refugee crisis. Jan Kulukumbis told the paper that his company has been contracted by the State Department to ship to Albania 40,000 tonnes of wheat, and 10,000 tonnes of flour, rice, and vegetable oil.

Gazeta Shqiptare also said that the non-governmental organisation Mercy International would deal with the distribution of the aid. The paper quoted unnamed sources as saying that the two remaining Yugoslav republics "may engage in a conflict by the and of February and the beginning of March."

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]