Albania PM says needs Italy help to fight smugglers

ROME, Jul 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta said on Friday his government had introduced tough new laws to crack down on smugglers of illegal immigrants but needed Italy's help to make the legislation work.

Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato was due in the Albanian capital Tirana for an official visit on Friday when he was expected to discuss with Meta the problem of trafficking of humans into Europe via Italy's shores.

"We have a good new law which will allow us to stop the smugglers on the sea, on land and in the workshops where they fix up their motorized dinghies," Meta told Rome's La Repubblica newspaper in an interview.

"But certainly we are waiting for a big show of support from Italy," he added.

Earlier this week, two Italian policemen and two suspected smugglers were killed after a police motor launch was rammed by a boat smuggling immigrants from Albania.

Outrage at the incident prompted opposition calls for Amato to cancel his trip to Albania.

Meta, 32, gave no details on the new laws, but said he was sure illegal trafficking of humans - which earns smugglers up to $3,000 per person for passage across the Adriatic - could be stopped if all Mediterranean states worked together.

"It needs to be a collective effort because Italy is not the final destination for most of these desperate people but just a step on the journey," he said.

Italy's center-right opposition, which many expect to form the next government after elections are held sometime in the next nine months, has called for changes to Italian law which would allow customs police to fire on smugglers' boats.

"Arms would not resolve anything. It is an idiotic idea which will only jeopardize the lives of innocents," Meta said.

Italy was swamped with refugees from Albania with the fall of communism in the early 1990s, and since then organized crime gangs have made fortunes smuggling immigrants across the narrow sea that divides the two countries.

Italy said this month it had arrested some 40 people in a covert operation against a Croat-Chinese immigrant smuggling ring, which transported 5,000 Chinese this year through the Balkans and then into Italy via the port of Trieste.

Original article