Ministers cite need for protection force as mission to help Albania is agreed


EU Foreign Ministers last night agreed an immediate contribution of humanitarian aid to Albania and to put together a substantial mission to help the country restore its administrative, financial and civic institutions.

Ministers acknowledged that any mission would require some protection but, under EU rules this would have to be provided outside Union structures by a "coalition of the willing", possibly operating under UN mandate. It this is not possible in the short term it may be necessary to move at the invitation of the Albanian government.

The Tanaiste, Mr Spring, last night welcomed the aid to Albania. But speaking of the Inter Governmental Conference meeting today in Rome, he expressed concern at the initiative from six countries, led by France and Germany, to commit the Union to eventual merger with the Western European Union.

Irish proposals on the text of a new treaty had reflected the need to involve the Union in a humanitarian and peacekeeping role, the so called Petersberg tasks, and a significant group of member states did not want to proceed further with collective security.

Mr Spring also said he welcomed the likely agreement at the Commission meeting today of a further £17 million in aid to the International Fund for Ireland. This had been in doubt following a round of serious belt tightening in the Commission.

Diplomatic sources said last night that a protection force of up to 3,000 for humanitarian aid to Albania was being discussed to secure Albanian ports and main supply routes against looters. Countries likely to contribute were said to be Italy, Greece Austria and the Dutch presidency.

An advance team would be sent to prepare the way for advisers to help with the reconstruction of government, police and army structures and to set up detailed arrangements for elections.

It is anticipated that a high profile public figure will be asked to lead the mission whose general mandate will come under the Organisation for Security Co operation in Europe as most member states want to maintain US and Russian involvement.

The current OSCE representative, the former Austrian Chancellor, Mr Franz Vranitsky, has said he is not available for the job.

Ministers also issued a statement deploring both last week's bomb attack in Israel and the Israeli government's decision to continue building on the Har Homa site in east Jerusalem.

. Albanian president Sali Berisha said today that he could not guarantee the safety of humanitarian aid convoys sent to help his people.