Albanian "immigrants" turned away as pact on sea patrols is agree


ON A day when unidentified Albanians fired at an Italian air force helicopter near Brindisi, Italy yesterday began to turn away Albanian boats headed for Italian ports.

After talks in Rome yesterday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Albanian Prime Minister Bashkim Fino reached agreement to conduct naval patrols in the Adriatic to halt the flow, which rose yesterday to almost 12,000 people since March 13th.

"There will be an agreement between Italy and Albania to patrol the Adriatic in order to halt the flow of refugees completely," Mr Prodi said. "Patrols also means controlling the coasts," he said.

He did not make clear whether Italian ships would enter Albanian territorial waters, though military sources said the navy was already carrying out orders to intercept Albanian boats and advise them to return home.

"We agree that Italy should patrol the entire Adriatic to stop this exodus because Albania's problems have to be resolved by the Albanians themselves in Albania," Mr Fino said.

Earlier, Interior Ministry Under Secretary Giannicola Sinisi described the refugees as "men and women from areas which have not even been touched by the revolt. They are looking for a better life, better paid work. In short, they are immigrants".

Italy has so far refused to consider the Albanian boat people as political refugees. Instead it has offered them short term humanitarian relief and a 60 day visa.

Italy may have been disappointed with the outcome of the meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers in Brussels yesterday. They again shied away from organising a multinational military force to help restore order in the former communist state.

From the outset of this crisis, Italy has argued that EU intervention of a humanitarian nature coupled with the necessary military protective force would serve a threefold purpose.

First, such a mission would take in urgently needed food and medical supplies. Second, the protection force could be used to control the exodus. Finally, such a mission is the first step towards restoring law and order in Albania. This is a basic requirement for persuading Italy and other countries to invest in the country.

In the last fortnight, Mr Prodi has repeated his view that meaningful infrastructural investment is the only viable long term solution for Albania. Only such investment can rebuild the country and persuade its people to remain.

Mr Fino said yesterday international relief aid was a crucial element in any attempt to stem the exodus. "That is the only way to give Albanians faith in this government's ability to govern," he said.

. The Irish Red Cross Society has begun an appeal for Albania on the final day of the commemoration of Operation Shamrock, the post second World War relief operations for European refugee children.