Troops may use force guarding Albania aid

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Paris (Reuters) - Troops in a multinational force safeguarding aid to Albania can use weapons both for self-defence and if they believe public order is threatened, Charles Millon, the French Defence Minister said yesterday.

Mr Millon, outlining the role of 1,000 French troops in the Italian-led force of up to 6,000 personnel, said the force had a far broader mandate to use arms than that granted to United Nations peace-keepers during the Bosnian war.

He said the force, under the UN Security Council resolution approving the operation last month, "will be able to use arms if it is threatened or if it sees that public order is threatened".

About 1,200 Italian, French and Spanish troops arrived by air and sea in Albania yesterday to launch the multinational effort.

Mr Millon said the force was primarily intended to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the needy in the former communist state and to ensure that other international organisations can carry out their work in safety.

"This mission will have indirect consequences because it will allow the Albanian territory to be secured and thus permit Albanian security forces to re-establish order in their country," Mr Millon told parliament.

He said the mission was limited to three months and "does not have the objective of acting as a substitute for the Albanian police or army. This is neither a police mission, nor one to disarm people."

Hundreds of thousands of weapons were looted from military arsenals last month during widespread unrest. Much of the south of the country is in the hands of rebels demanding the resignation of President Sali Berisha, blamed for the collapse of get-rich-quick savings schemes at the root of the unrest in which more than 300 people have died.

Speaking in Rome, Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, applauded the efforts of the multinational force but stressed that the goals of the mission should remain humanitarian.

"I think the concept of the mission ... has the right approach to make sure that food gets into the hands of needy and not into the hands of outlaws," Mr Annan said after talks with the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi.

Mr Annan said, however, that the multinational force had no mandate to disarm rebels and this should be done by the Albanian people themselves.

"Disarmament is a very tricky issue and should be an [Albanian] national effort ... possibly the government could buy back the weapons," he said. "This operation is a humanitarian one to make sure aid gets to the people."

Mr Prodi said the force would also have as its priority the smooth running of new general elections called by President Berisha for June, after rebels demanded his resignation over the savings fiasco.

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