The arrival of an advisory mission of Western Europeans to help "restore civilian structures" and law and order in Albania has raised tenuous hope for a peaceful solution of the armed insurgency that has plunged Europe's poorest country into widespread disorder.
An 11-member team, headed by Dutch diplomat Jan de Marchant et d'Ansembourg, was due to arrive in Tirana yesterday. European Union foreign ministers have shied away from sending troops to Albania. Instead, they decided Sunday to offer military and police expertise in a strictly advisory capacity.
Few Albanians believe that the international community will ever send troops into their country.
Insurgents in the south remain unwilling to lay down their arms as long as President Sali Berisha stays in power. And observers say the question now is whether the new government of Prime Minister Bashkim Fino will acquire the legitimacy it needs to disarm civilians, especially with Mr. Berisha remaining in office.
Mr. Fino has been working hard to gain control and fill the power vacuum that had Tirana in a grip of fear up to two days ago. In the process, he appears to be trying to disassociate himself with the unpopular Berisha.
Most significant, Fino has recruited political heavyweights from the opposition, such as Fatos Nano. The former premier was jailed in 1993 on corruption charges said to have been politically motivated. Mr. Nano, who remains the head of the opposition Socialist Party, was among 51 people granted amnesty by Berisha late Sunday.
In a chaotic press conference held in the headquarters of the Socialist Party yesterday, Nano said Berisha had "a moral obligation" to resign.
"I don't think he should step down," Nano said, "I think he should step aside" so as to give Fino's government the chance to assert itself.
A missionary for peace
Nano, a popular political figure in Albania, said he would turn into a "peacekeeping, peacemaking missionary" pleading with armed civilians in the south to lay down their weapons. "We need to disarm these people," he said. "We need to cooperate without arms."
But in both the politically charged south and the disordered north, persuading civilians to surrender hundreds of thousands of looted Kalashnikov rifles may require more than merely Nano's pacifist message.
In Tirana, though, there was tangible relief after hastily recruited former police officers and military officials put on a show of force and conveyed the impression that the new government was somewhat in control.
"We must trust this government because it's the only one we have," says Coseta Noti, an Italian professor at the University of Tirana. "We must trust them blindly. Anything is better than this."
Former Army officers crowded into the Defense Ministry in Tirana in the hope of getting an assignment. They also believe their only alternative is to trust Fino's government.
"I want to help my people, I will go wherever the government decides to send me," says Zhemali Perparim, a former Army captain who was relieved of his duties in a purge of the armed forces in the early 1990s that left two-thirds of Army officers without a job.
Few people in Tirana expect an international force will actually step in and collect an estimated half million Kalashnikovs looted from Army warehouses over the last three weeks.
Berisha asks for help
But Berisha said he would ask the delegation to send police, food and economic aid. "We will request a major assistance to rebuild our institutions, also a very quick humanitarian assistance ... and economic aid," Berisha told French Europe 1 radio.
Many, including Nano, believe Albania has to disarm itself. "We took up arms and now we must return them ourselves," Nano said. "No [international] force will do that for us."
"An international force would be a disaster," says Blendi Fejziu, a reporter with the opposition daily Koha Jone. "Albanians have 45 years of one of the most repressive Communist regimes on their back. You could get 10 years in jail for talking to a foreigner and that instinct, that fear, is still with us. If they send in foreigners, Albanians will shoot."
Albanians, Mr. Fejziu adds, "have never surrendered their arms. How would any force accomplish that mission? Would they go into people's homes and get killed? No, we must solve our own problems."