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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Albania sells off its military hardware
Albanian rebels on top of seized tank in 1997
Albania hopes Hollywood may take an interest
Albania has decided to modernise its armed forces by selling off or scrapping its outdated military equipment.

Albanian defence officials are pinning their hopes on Western millionaire collectors and Hollywood studios looking for antiquated war trophies.

Chinese tanks and helicopters, MiG-17, MiG-19 and MiG-21 fighters, as well as the country's four Russian submarines are waiting for potential buyers.

If we cannot sell them off, we shall scrap them

Albanian army chief of staff

The arsenal dates from the 1950s and 1960s, and not all of it is in working order.

"Maintaining the weapons is very expensive and if we cannot sell them off, we shall scrap them," said army chief of staff General Pellum Qazimi.

There could be some imaginative offers. A British businessman had proposed turning shells into umbrella handles, says Yilli Pinari, head of the state arms trade company Meico.

'Strange request'

He has also received what he calls a "strange" request from a British pilots' association, seeking to send a group of retired pilots to Albania to take pictures of the MiG aircraft and themselves on the planes.

Another possibility considered by the defence authorities is to turn Kalashnikov assault rifles into hunting rifles to try to find buyers.

Protesters fire in the air during 1997 riots
Assault rifles may be turned into hunting guns

The 50-year old Chinese tanks are not very popular.

"No one has shown interest in the tanks and at least 500 of them will end up as scrap," Mr Pinari says.

Nato aspirations

The Albanian authorities have not disclosed the amount of arms and ammunitions stored in the hundreds of the country's army depots.

Under the communist regime some 700,000 concrete bunkers were built across the country, capable of sheltering two million heavily-armed Albanians - or two-thirds of the population.

During the riots in 1997, following the collapse of pyramid investment schemes, up to one million weapons were looted from army barracks.

Under UN programme two years ago, some 100,000 weapons were handed back.

Albania is among nine countries in central and eastern Europe hoping to join Nato later this year, and is keen to show willingness to modernise its armed forces.

American military experts are helping the country with its military reforms. According to a 10-year plan, the Albanian army would be reduced from 65,000 under communism to 50,000 by the end of 2010.

See also:

19 Dec 01 | Europe
Bulgaria scraps Soviet missiles
07 Dec 01 | Europe
Nato and Russia seal new ties
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