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Wednesday, October 7, 1998 Published at 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK

Analysis: Where does Albania stand?

Bujar Bukoshi, right, Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed republic of Kosovo, talks to ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo

South-east Europe Analyst, Gabriel Partos, looks at how Albania is responding to the worsening crisis over Kosovo.

Ever since the conflict in Kosovo began to escalate seven months ago, Albania has been calling for robust action by the international community. And now that the likelihood of such action is greater than at any stage, Foreign Minister, Paskal Milo, has reiterated this argument.

The Albanian government is in favour of the air strikes against military infrastructure in Serbia because it believes this will send a strong message to President Milosevic that he must start a real dialogue to resolve the question of Kosovo.

Mr Milo has gone beyond urging military action and said that Albania is willing to make its air force facilities available to NATO. This offer is unlikely to be taken up: NATO already has bases in Italy as well as a strong presence of the US Sixth Fleet.

Albanian solidarity yet to translate into action

Tirana's insistence on firm action by NATO has been partly to compensate for its own inability to give anything other than limited support to fellow-Albanians in Kosovo.

[ image: One of the thousands who fled: a Kosovo Albanian woman]
One of the thousands who fled: a Kosovo Albanian woman
As Europe's poorest state it's not been in a position to provide assistance, apart from giving shelter to refugees. And with a poorly-equipped army that virtually disintegrated during last year's uprising against the then President, Sali Berisha, it would've been far too risky to get involved militarily.

So besides political support, Albania's main contribution to the Kosovar Albanians' struggle has been through allowing the guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, to use northern Albania as a base and training area. Even in that, Tirana has had little choice; with law and order remaining at best precarious, Albania's security forces have not been in a position to clamp down on the KLA.

On the diplomatic front, Albania has had little success. Ex-Prime Minister Fatos Nano tried to break the ice of 50 years of hostility by meeting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a year ago. But the initiative produced no meaningful response from Belgrade.

In the meantime, relations between Tirana and the Kosovar Albanian leadership under Ibrahim Rugova have remained uneasy. That's mainly because the Albanian government favours Kosovo's continuing presence within Yugoslavia -- though with the enhanced authority of republic - while the Kosovars are committed to full independence.

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