Turkey promises to help Albania modernize its army

TIRANA, Feb 29, 2000 -- (AFP) Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Monday his country plans to give Albania more than $120 million dollars over the next four years to help modernize its army.

Ecevit, speaking at a joint press conference with Albanian counterpart Ilir Meta during a two-day visit to Tirana, said Turkey saw an up-to-date Albanian military as an important element for peace and stability in the Balkans.

Ankara has already earmarked $41 million for the Albanian defense force and planned to double that amount between now and 2004, Ecevit said, adding that the change would also have a positive impact on the economy of Albania, considered the poorest country in Europe.

An uprising in Albania in 1997 resulted in army weapons depots being pillaged and around one million arms are believed to be in circulation. Large parts of the country remain lawless.

Turkey, as a member of NATO, took part in the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia which eventually forced Yugoslav troops to end their operation against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and to pull out of the Serbian province.

Albania shares a border with Kosovo to the north and both Albania and Turkey have predominantly Muslim populations.

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