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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK

Analysis: Crisis unites Albanians

The KLA is now able to operate freely in Albania

By BBC South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Kosovo: Special Report
In the first three weeks of Nato's air campaign against Yugoslavia, Albania has had to accommodate over 300,000 people displaced from Kosovo.

The long-feared nightmare scenario of an army of desperate refugees destabilising a poverty-stricken country has come dangerously close to being realised.

But so far Albania has proved remarkably resilient. The unprecedented scale of refugee arrivals has not thrown the country into a state of complete chaos.

[ image: Albania has provided a haven for 300,000 refugees]
Albania has provided a haven for 300,000 refugees
In some ways, the refugee crisis has actually helped unite Albanians. Many ordinary people have given shelter to Kosovar Albanians so they can live in better or less regimented conditions than those provided in refugee camps. Political disunity is far less evident than before the fresh upsurge in the conflict in Kosovo.

The shrill rhetoric of political debate has been toned down, although former President Sali Berisha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, has criticised the government for failing to prevent an incursion into Albanian territory by Yugoslav troops.

Click here to watch Matt Frei's report from the Albanian border with Kosovo, now one of the most dangerous in the world.

Border fears

Yugoslavia denied reports from monitors of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe that its forces briefly moved into the Albanian border village of Kamenica.

But Albania is concerned about the increased activity of Yugoslav soldiers in the border areas.

There has been sporadic shelling across the frontier into Albania. Its purpose has been to dislodge the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters from their bases and perhaps also to force out the local villagers who may be providing facilities for the guerrillas.

Albania is hoping that it will not be involved in a direct conflict with Yugoslavia. But the shelling has already prompted Tirana to send more security forces to the border.

Nato troops move in

Meanwhile, Albania is also hoping its security will be boosted by the arrival of Nato troops on two separate missions.

Some 8,000 Nato soldiers are being deployed as part of Operation Allied Harbour to help Albania cope with the humanitarian emergency posed by the refugees.

A further 2,000 will be providing back-up services for the Apache helicopters that are expected to be used against Serbian armoured vehicles in Kosovo.

Albania has already offered Nato its air space and military facilities for operations against Yugoslavia.

While its army remains weak after its collapse during the 1997 anti-government uprising, Tirana is continuing to look to Nato for its security.

Free rein for KLA

Meanwhile, with the large-scale Serbian offensive against Kosovar Albanians, the Albanian government no longer feels obliged to hold back support from the KLA.

Albania regards the KLA as the only force on the ground in Kosovo that can provide some protection to Kosovar Albanians.

While in the past the Tirana authorities made half-hearted attempts to intercept arms supplies to the guerrillas, the KLA can now operate freely throughout Albania.

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