Albania's Rebels Chafe at Playing a Waiting Game

Gun-fatigue and uncertainty have crept into Saranda and surrounding towns three weeks into the insurgency that has left the whole of southern Albania in the hands of armed rebels.

The countless roadblocks set up by the rebels during the first days of the revolt are now unmanned, and the daily morning meetings in which local leaders took turns denouncing President Sali Berisha's corrupt dealings have been suspended.

With offices and schools still closed, people in this resort town have nothing else to do but mill around all day waiting for news to trickle in from the capital, Tirana, where the transitional government of Premier Bashkim Fino struggles to balance the competing interests of the rebels in the south with a parliament dominated by deputies from Mr. Berisha's Democratic Party (PD).

Rebel demands

In a meeting Saturday in Tepelena, the leaders of the revolt were left with little choice but to reiterate their conditions to the surrender of weapons looted from Army warehouses: the resignation of Berisha, a presidential council to replace the institution of the presidency, and an immediate transfer of news media control to parties in the opposition.

None of these demands are likely to be met any time soon, and with insurgents in the south seemingly unable to coalesce into a unified threat, a solution to Albania's crisis looks as though it might take months.

"We won't lay down our arms until Berisha goes," insists Djevat Koucia, a former Army colonel who organized Saranda's revolt. "We call on the United States and European countries to put pressure on Berisha" to force his resignation.

"I am optimistic," Mr. Koucia adds. "Berisha knows he has to go. He knows he has to bow to the sovereignty of the people. He is just being capricious."

In Tirana, however, there were no signs that Berisha would voluntarily loosen his grip on power.

"He still has control over the Ministry of the Interior, parliament, and television," says Blendi Fevziu, a well-known journalist who recently turned down an offer by Mr. Fino to head the Ministry of Culture. "There may be a slight chance that he will be forced out by members of his own party, but at this point, it's highly unlikely."

Dissent within the ranks

But Western diplomatic sources in the capital say that a dissenting current within Berisha's PD is "growing bolder."

"There is a fairly substantial group of maybe 30 to 40 deputies that want Berisha to go to save the party," says one source. The PD has 122 seats in the 144-member parliament. Parties in the opposition are also maneuvering to nudge the president out.

"Berisha still has an incredible ability to keep the PD under his control," says the diplomatic source. "But the situation could precipitate quickly."

A demonstration of Berisha's authoritarian hold over fellow party members came Thursday when he publicly berated former Premier Bashkim Kopliku in parliament for having failed to "check his tongue."

"There are all these theories about what Berisha is or isn't doing," Mr. Fevziu observes. "The truth is, nobody knows. He has stopped appearing on TV and has successfully shifted the public's attention on Mr. Fino. But it's not Fino's will that counts. It's Berisha's will."

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