Albanians urged to tackle the boat gangs

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The Independent Online

The Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, told Albania yesterday that tougher laws against gangs smuggling illegal migrants would have little effect unless they were enforced.

The Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, told Albania yesterday that tougher laws against gangs smuggling illegal migrants would have little effect unless they were enforced.

The lucrative trade in humans across the narrow stretch of water separating the countries topped the agenda at talks in Tirana between Mr Amato and his counterpart, Ilir Meta.

Hours before Mr Amato arrived, the Albanian government introduced a Bill providing for tougher penalties against the scafisti, who drive the boats, a register of marine craft and confiscation of suspect boats, but it has to be approved by parliament.

On Monday two Italian border policemen and three Kurds died when smugglers in an inflatable boat rammed a pursuing police craft. They were identified by some of the Kurd survivors and arrested.

The Italian opposition accused the Rome government of being soft on the smugglers and called for aid to Albania to be suspended and said that police and naval vessels should be permitted to fire on boats involved in the immigrant racket, which can net £10,000 to £20,000 per trip.

More than 400 Italian officers are working with their counterparts in Albania but lack of expertise and low pay means they are susceptible to bribes to turn a blind eye. In 1998, when the police chief of Vlore confiscated eight boats, the bandits, heavily armed, forced the officers to hand them back.

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