Albania recalls envoy to Greece as tensions mount

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The Independent Online
ALBANIA said yesterday it had withdrawn its ambassador from Greece, a sign that tensions between the two countries are entering a new stage of confrontation. President Sali Berisha recalled his ambassador to Athens for 'consultations' on Monday after a Greek plane flew into Albania's airspace and dropped leaflets calling for the removal of the Albanian government.

The Greek authorities denied the plane had flown its mission with official approval. They said the pilot had stolen an aircraft from the island of Corfu, just off Albania's Adriatic coast, and had later been suspended pending an official investigation.

The incident could scarcely have occurred at a more sensitive time. Five political activists from Albania's ethnic Greek minority are on trial in Tirana on charges of military espionage, and Greece last week began a wave of deportations of illegal Albanian immigrants.

Mr Berisha said on Monday the plane's flight was 'a grave provocation, a shameful, premeditated and organised act, and an adoption of Cold War tactics'. The Albanian Foreign Ministry said the leaflets dropped had borne the imprint of the Greek flag and had called for the overthrow of Albania's constitutional order.

Greece dismissed Tirana's complaints and tried to focus attention on the alleged discrimination suffered by Albania's ethnic Greeks. 'Albania is acting thoughtlessly and it will not be long before it regrets this,' said President Constantine Karamanlis. The socialist Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, echoed the president's remarks. 'Every step against the Greek minority in Albania will be answered,' he told reporters.

Relations between Greece and Albania have rarely been free of suspicion and hostility since the Second World War. Greece recalls that Italian forces used Albania as a base for invading Greek territory in 1940, while Albania recalls that soon afterwards Greece occupied a Greek-inhabited area of southern Albania, now northern Epirus. Albania suspects Greece of covertly promoting secessionist ambitions among its Greek minority, estimated at 60,000 by Albania but put at 300,000 or more by Greece.