Albanian Daily News
PM denies Albania preparing for Montenegrin refugee Crisis

Albanian Economic Tribune - Jan 20, 2000

TIRANA - Prime Minister Ilir Meta denied on Wednesday press speculations that Albania was logistically preparing to host thousands of refugees to face the worst possible case of a conflict in neighbouring Montenegro.

The western-leaning Montenegrin government has recently been locked in a power struggle with the Belgrade regime demanding more autonomy in a revised and looser federation.

Montenegrin officials have warned that the small Yugoslav republic may resort to calling a referendum on independence if Serbian authorities in Belgrade refused to cooperate.

However, Meta said there were no indications of a possible conflict in the small northern neighbour. "As far as speculation about any measures being taken by the Albanian government in the case of a possible influx of refugees from Montenegro, I can say, after reading some press alerts, that the Albanian government is taking no such measures," Meta told a press conference on Wednesday.

"The Albanian government has no information on any possible conflict in Montenegro," he added. "We hope that the Kosovo war will be the last conflict in our region, and from now on all problems will be solved in a democratic way."

Meta said that Albania welcomed the democratic reforms of the present Montenegrin government, but added: "The future of Montenegro, is a matter for them to solve."

Press reports have said in the past few days that government and international organisations were preparing to deal with a new refugee crisis, in a worst-case scenario, if a conflict between Serbia and independence-minded Montenegro erupted in the next few months.

The Ministry of Public Order took over last week two former refugee camps in the district of Durres to accommodate potential refugees. 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 crack-down by the Serbian army and security forces.

Public Order Minister Spartak Poci visited last week the 5,000-bed camp in Rrushkull, 37 kilometres (23 miles) west of Tirana. Another refugee camp in the nearby Katund i Ri (New Village), some 34 kilometres from Tirana, was also taken over by the Public Order Ministry.

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

"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.

Press also reported a planned dispatch of about 40,000 tonnes of wheat grain by the US government that will be stored for exclusive use in case there is a new refugee crisis in the region.

Albanian authorities have tried recently to forge closer ties with the Montenegrin government.

Meta met on Tuesday the Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic in a tri-lateral meeting held at the Macedonian lake side resort of Ohrid, also attended by their Macedonian counterpart, Ljubco Georgievski, and agreed to develop direct links, clearly aiming to free themselves from the influence of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s sanctions-bound government.

The prime ministers of the neighbouring countries committed themselves to efforts for reconstruction and the building of roads, railways, telecommunications, oil pipeline links and a power supply network in the region.

Vujanovic said his foreign minister would meet his Albanian counterpart soon to discuss opening up their common border.

Belgrade protested strongly when Montenegro opened a border crossing with Croatia in 1998 without consulting it and Yugoslav troops stopped an attempt by Montenegrin police to take over a part of the republic’s airport in December.

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