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Sunday, 5 May, 2002, 06:43 GMT 07:43 UK
Eyewitness: Albania's blood feuds
Marc Emur, who fears for his life, cleans his shotgun
Marc Emur fears for his life because of a blood feud
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By the BBC's Mike Donkin
In Northern Albania

There are 72 people in what the Laciy family call their "tribe".

They live in the beautiful mountains of northern Albania, but for nearly four years they have not dared stray beyond the gates of their yard because a "gjakmarrya" - a blood feud - has been declared against them.

One of their sons killed a man and so, under an ancient code revived in these remote valleys, the victim's family must take revenge against any of the killer's male relatives.

It means the women must farm the land and that even a 10-month-old boy, born "locked in", will eventually be a target unless the feud is resolved.

So cousins Zecir and Gentian, who are 16, cannot go to school or play football with their friends.

16-year old Zecir Laciy
Zecir Laciy could be killed if he leaves his house
"If we went outside these walls we know they'd find us with their guns," Zecir says. "This is no life for us. Maybe we can escape to Europe illegally."

Indoors and out of the line of fire the men are smoking and drinking raki as they meet with a team of peace missionaries who are trying to broker an end to the feud.

The killer's father, Lan Laciy, says he prays they succeed.

"Our enemies have punished us enough. None of us men can work" he says. "We are already ruined as a tribe."

Huge task

The missionaries, who are funded by Britain's Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod), have a huge task on their hands.

This is one of hundreds of blood feuds which are blighting the lives of thousands of people in Albania.

"We have to change peoples' mentality here," the missionaries' leader Emin Spahia says.

Peace missionaries share a drink with local men
Peace missionaries negotiate with local men
"But we know it won't be easy because we are asking them to set aside traditions they have upheld for 600 years."

Those traditions are based on the Kanun Law drawn up in the 15th Century by feudal leader Lek Dugajine. His code states that if one man kills another "blood should always be avenged by blood" and lays down precise rules for how.

Kanun Law was suppressed by Albania's harsh Communist regime but revived when it collapsed in 1991 because in the mountains the laws of the weak new government are rarely enforced.

State Security Director Neritan Cekas insists the authorities are doing all they can to stamp out blood feuds.

"We have seized many weapons," he says. "And we tell citizens that this traditional law should now be just history.

Bad impression

"Blood feud killings give a very bad impression of our country - especially at a time when Albania wants to attract more foreign investors and we hope to join the European Union."

The government is relying on the peace missionaries to intervene where it cannot by holding a series of village meetings in the north where the whole community is urged to "swear to abstain" from blood feuds.

These can become emotional gatherings.

In Kelmend, missionary Emin Spahija held up a file of pictures of children, all of whose fathers were murdered under the Kanun. "Set the code aside," he pleaded. "It brings only pain."

A peace missionary holds up pictures of orphaned children
Villagers are shown images of fatherless children
One villager asked, "Why should we? When the state is not doing its job in punishing the guilty."

Another shouted: "It is not for the state to forgive my son's killer. That is for me to decide."

Kelmend's villagers did finally vote "yes" to setting up a pilot zone where blood feuds will be outlawed - but the show of hands was far from unanimous.

After the meeting we tested the mood by calling on both sides in one bitter feud.

We called first on Ardiana Preka, whose husband was killed and whose men folk have sworn to avenge him.

After feeding the animals with her children Ardiana went to put a fresh rose on their father's shrine.

'Hard to forgive'

We asked her: Did she too want more blood spilled? "In these matters the women do not decide that" she said. "But it will be hard for our men to forgive."

We then crossed the village to the house of the man who killed Ardiana's husband and then fled.

Behind the steel railings the women and the daughters of the Emur family dug vegetables. On the porch Marc Emur, who is 70, cleaned his hunting rifle.

Ardiana Preka adds flowers to her husband's shrine
Ardiana Preka visits her husband's shrine

"For now I must be ready," he said. "But we ask the Preka tribe to forgive us so that all of our children and all of theirs can grow up without their lives being threatened. One day all this must end."

Finally we took that plea back to the Preka's farm.

Prek Preka, the father of the feud victim, would not talk long about the duty to kill by which he is now bound. He said simply, "These are necessary things."

In the mountains of northern Albania when it comes to a choice between a nation's progress and a family's honour - for now there is little contest. The old ways prevail.

See also:

06 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Picking up the pieces in Albania
20 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Albania
19 Oct 01 | Americas
Rebuilding Albania
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