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WED, 04 JUL 2001 23:02:38 GMT

"Liberation Armies" Which Set Phantasies Free

AIM Tirana, June 20, 2001

The latest fashion in the Balkans is formation of "liberation armies", but like with any other political fashion in this region, it has gone beyond all limits. This is widespread opinion of the well-versed circles in Tirana about last month's information on the formation of OVC (Liberation Army of Chameria) in Northern Greece - Thesprotia, where the Albanians called Chami used to live, but were driven out after World War II for collaborating with the Fascists. In contrast to the Liberation Army of Kosovo and National Liberation Army in Macedonia, which the Albanians press was the first to write about, the Macedonian press first reported on the creation of the so-called "Liberation Army of Chameria". This information soon received wide publicity in Greek papers. It raised so much dust that on June 16, the spokesman for the Greek Government was forced to refute for the second time in two weeks the existence or any form or activity of this "OVC" in Greece.

Actually, Tirana assessed the news on the creation of the "Liberation Army of Chameria" as a provocation, irrespective of who its authors may be - either anti-Albanian nationalistic circles or Albanian nationalistic circles. This was immediately followed by public condemnation by the Albanian Government whose spokesman on June 1 stated that such claims, either anonymous or not, were highly reprehensible since they were aimed at spreading violence beyond Macedonian borders. In his interview for the Albanian public television, the Albanian Foreign Minister, Paskal Milo emphasised that although these fabrications were unfounded and highly reprehensible no matter whether they originated from anti-Albanian nationalistic groups or perhaps of some extremist Albanian minds.

Instantaneous reaction of the official Tirana was explained not by the gravity of information on the existence of "OVC", but by the fact that this issue has direct repercussions on extremely important relations with the neighbouring Greece, which the Government considers Albania's important strategic partner. What attracted the attention was the fact that not only the Government and parties of the ruling coalition, but also those from the opposition treated this issue with much caution and did not comment on this "OVC".

Although Albania is currently at the height of electoral campaign for parliamentary elections on June 24, neither the authorities nor the opposition touched upon the subject of "OVC" in their propaganda, rejecting every group aspiring after the "liberation of Chameria". The Albanian media also, either government-controlled, opposition or independent ones devoted practically no attention to that "OVC" and ignored it totally, which goes to show that they assessed that this subject was alien and totally irrelevant for the Albanian public.

The explanation offered by well-informed circles in Tirana of the reasons and purposes for which such dust was raised regarding the so called "Liberation Army of Chameria" was that various Macedonian and Greek nationalistic circles had interest an in spreading such rumours. The Macedonian nationalistic circles were interested in discrediting the NLA (UCK) and the Albanians and presenting them as terrorists who create unrest not only in Macedonia, but also in relation to NATO and EU members, such as Greece. That is how the statement of the Yugoslav President, V.Kostunica (given on June 18, during his meeting with Russian President V.Putin) that the Albanian terrorists also represent a threat for Northern Greece, was interpreted.

It is also believed that certain Greek nationalistic circles, which have old claims to southern parts of Albania, which they call "Vorio Epirus" and where the Greek minority lives, were interested in creating tensions in bilateral relations and were therefore exerting pressure on Albania so as to create more space for the party of Greek minority and Greek minority associations to get into future Parliament.

Actually, what puts Tirana into a very difficult position one way or the other is the fact that the "Chama problem" is burdening its relations with Greece. Chamas are the Albanians, who were back in 1945 banished from Greece where they left behind their homes and land and who are now living in Albania. At the time of their exile they numbered some 30 to 45 thousand people, while according to current estimates there are now 200 thousand of them. They have established an association named "Chameria" and demand the restitution of their property. By a joint decision of the Ministries of Finance and Economy of Greece of 1947, the property of Chameria Albanians was placed under a kind of conserved sequestration. The Law on the National Cadastre and other Dispositions (Law No.2664) was published in the Greek Official Gazette on November 27, 1988. On the basis of this Law the entire real estate in Greece was to be registered by October 5, 1999.

Two years have passed since this deadline expired and that property is now considered public property, while the Albanian nationals can claim their right to such property only before courts. The association "Chamaria" also demands that Chamas be given back their Greek citizenship which they were, according to them, unjustly stripped of by Enver Hoxha's regime that gave the Albanians from Chamaria the Albanian citizenship after they came to Albania.

Problems with the property of Chamas and other Albanian nationals in Greece is a thorn in the flesh of bilateral relations between these two countries, for which they still do not have a solution although the Treatise of Friendship signed by the two countries in 1996, under President Berisha's Government, specified that two sides would work on the removal of obstacles hindering the exercise of property rights of citizens of both sides in the territory of the other side.

Until now, all Albanians Governments were rather reserved in presenting this problem to Athens, and the latest official Greek reaction was the speech of Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis who, in December 1999 said in Athens that for the Greek Government "The problem of Chamas does not exist". But, the fact remains that there is a group of people living in Albania whose members can prove with their documents that they once lived in Northern Greece and had Greek citizenship and still have property there. Another proof of Tirana's caution is the fact that the Internet site of the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) does not give any information on Chamas, while the Turkish MFA site gives pages with information of the "Chama problem in Greece".

This situation is only natural for those from whom the idea or information on "OVC" has originated in the first place. But, there are several reasons why it seems that this idea will not have the same success as its preceding models in Kosovo and Macedonia. First, there is no Albanian population in Northern Greece and no Greek will tell you that he is of Chaman origin. Second, the Albanian state and major political parties have stated their firm opposition against any adventurous idea regarding Greece. Third, this idea does not have the support of nor attracts the interest of either the Albanians in Kosovo or those in Macedonia. The NLA leader in Macedonia, Ali Ahmeti, who had been accused of informing an Australian radio station about the formation of the "OVC" immediately denied that interview and such news. He sent a letter to the Greek Foreign Minister, Papandreou rejecting any

part in the creation of or support to some "OVC" assuring him of the friendly Albanian feelings for the Greek people.

Under such conditions, Tirana considered the idea on some "OVC" as propaganda whose authors are not Albanians. It seems like a project which aspires to set phantasies free. But, in the Balkan region political and nationalistic phantasies often produce hallucinating projects, which contribute to the creation of an even stronger international impression about the Balkans as a region which likes to create troubles for itself.

AIM Tirana

Arian LEKA