Berisha hope for aid

Tirana (Reuters) - President Sali Berisha voiced new support for a multinational force to intervene in Albania yesterday after Italy asked the United Nations Security Council to authorise troops to safeguard aid to the country.

Jan de Marchant et d'Ansembourg, a Dutch diplomat leading a mission of European relief and security experts to Albania, said after meeting Mr Berisha: "We asked him if he thought it [a foreign force] was useful and he did."

Mr Berisha believed "the majority of the people would have no problem with this", Mr d'Ansembourg told reporters.

Much of the south of the former communist state is ruled by rebels and armed gangs after protests against the collapse of savings schemes in recent months spilled over into an insurrection and calls for the right- wing Mr Berisha to stand down.

UN Security Council members met informally on Thursday night in New York to consider an Italian request to send a force to help protect humanitarian aid shipments to Albania, Europe's poorest country.

Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Turkey and Romania have expressed willingness to take part. Italy has estimated that about 2,500 people would be deployed initially, with another 2,500 in reserve.

Mr d'Ansembourg said he understood the UN would discuss the issue again early next week in New York .

Meanwhile, Albanian police were investigating the killings of about 18 people in a shootout in central Albania on Thursday night, the worst bloodletting in two months of crisis, an Interior Ministry source said.

The local ATA news agency said an angry group of locals shot dead 16 armed people to avenge the killing of a local leader in Levan.