Athens leans hard on Albania

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The Independent Online
GREECE has stepped up the pressure on Albania, its northern neighbour, by demanding that it take measures to improve the condition of its ethnic Greek minority. Albania has denounced the demands as an attempt to sow discord as ethnic and political tensions rise in the lower Balkans.

Conflict between the two countries has been mounting since late June, when Albania expelled a Greek Orthodox clergyman from the southern town of Gjirokaster and accused him of inciting local Greeks to campaign for unification with Greece. Athens responded by deporting tens of thousands of Albanians who had entered Greece illegally in search of work. The dispute has intensified suspicion and hostility in the Balkans and added to fears that the conflicts in former Yugoslavia may spread south.

The Greek Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis, said Albania was guilty of double standards by demanding fair treatment for ethnic Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, while discriminating against its own ethnic Greeks. He urged Albania to adopt the following six measures:

Allow the Orthodox clergyman, Chrysostomos Maidonis, to return to his parish, and let people use Greek in church services.

Improve Greek-language education.

Allow Greek political and cultural associations, and return Greek properties confiscated by Albania's former Communist rulers.

Stop sacking and discriminating against ethnic Greeks in the public sector.

Permit ethnic Greeks who left Albania after 1944 to return and reclaim their properties.

Allow Albanian citizens to choose their national identity.

Mr Mitsotakis stressed that Greece had no territorial claims on southern Albania, what Greeks call Northern Epirus. He added: 'We believe the best thing that Albania could do to promote the case of Albanian minorities in other countries is to end the oppression of the Greek minority's rights inside Albania immediately.'

Albania and Greece disagree over how many Greeks live in Albania. Albania says there are only 60,000 Greeks, but Greece says there are at least 250,000. Mr Mitsotakis's demands drew a stern riposte from Albania's Foreign Minister, Alfred Serreqi: 'It is unacceptable to use the minority in Albania to sow the seeds of discord at a time when the Greek side does not even condescend to discuss the long existence of Albanian minorities in Greece.'

Albania's Prime Minister, Aleksander Meksi, went further and raised the question of Greece's treatment of ethnic Albanians who, before the Second World War, lived in the northern Greek region of Cameria. At the end of the war, Greece evicted Albanian Muslims, but not Albanian Christians, from Cameria to Albania. Mr Meksi suggested that Greece owed these people compensation.

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