Albania dividing in two Communist south: Government is stronger in conservative north.

March 13, 1997

THE CONCESSION of Albania's President Sali Berisha to his opponents has not disarmed them. They don't trust him. They like his idea of new elections in June with a coalition regime until then, for which a Socialist oppositionist has been named prime minister. They just don't want Mr. Berisha on top of it.

The trouble is that the insurgents who overran army bases and towns in the south, at first on the coast and then by moving inland, don't speak for the whole country. Small as it is, Albania is deeply divided by region and clan and had a hard time behaving as a nation even after it was deemed to be one in this century.

The people of the south, who favor the Socialist (formerly Communist) Party opposition better than their poorer cousins in the north do, suffered terribly from the pyramid scam that bilked most Albanians with apparent government approval. They are out of control. Whether the promise of government by Socialists can persuade them to hand back the weapons they stole is problematic.

Mr. Berisha, who calls himself a Democrat and free market champion, has more authority in the north, where unrest has just begun. Although soldiers will not fight for him in the South, it is not clear that Socialist opponents would fare better in the north.

With mediating attempts by Austria and Italy, both having had designs on Albania in this century, and by the European Union, the rebels and the government can reach an understanding if they want. From time to time, Albanians worry about their kin who are a suppressed majority in the Kosovo province of Serbia and a minority in Macedonia. But they cannot help those ethnic Albanians outside their borders if they cannot make the country itself work.

It would be helpful if Mr. Berisha stepped down and if the rebels of the south declared victory, handed in their weapons and went home. The deck of an Italian warship floating offshore in the Adriatic would be as good a place to reach such an understanding as any.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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