Skip to comments.U.N. arms control of a different type gets promising results in Albania
Posted on 08/31/2002 10:23:42 AM PDT by RCW2001
Saturday, August 31, 2002
©2002 Associated Press
(08-31) 10:10 PDT (AP) --
NDROQ, Albania (AP) -- It was an offer that Drita Nuri and some of her fellow villagers couldn't refuse: Turn in their illegal weapons in exchange for a better water supply.
And it worked, after a fashion. Villagers were still handing in guns, ammunition and explosives well after an Aug. 4 deadline expired. Their reward: amnesty, plus $50,000 worth of new pipes and pumps to improve the leaky water supply network.
"People were surprised that handing over the weapons could bring money," said Fatime Goga, who heads the Ndroq commune, a cluster of 13 villages and their 10,000 people just west of the capital, Tirana.
It's a novel approach to getting Albanians to part with the hundreds of thousands of weapons stolen by ordinary citizens in widespread looting that followed the collapse of pyramid schemes in 1997.
Enraged after losing their life savings, scores of Albanians took to the streets, raiding army depots and plunging Europe's poorest country into anarchy.
Five years later, those weapons remain a deadly legacy of the unrest. An estimated 550,000 weapons, 839 million rounds of ammunition and 16 million explosive devices vanished in the looting, the Public Order Ministry says.
As many as 150,000 weapons are believed to have been spirited out of Albania and into the hands of ethnic Albanian militants fighting in neighboring Kosovo and Macedonia.
Although Albania's government has collected about 200,000 weapons and significant amounts of other ordnance, police say at least 200,000 other weapons and countless rounds of ammunition remain in private hands.
Officials concede it hasn't been easy getting Albanians to part with all that firepower, even though it's against the law for most citizens to own anything more powerful than a hunting rifle, and even those must be officially registered.
"Up until 1999, only 16,000 weapons were collected," said Todi Grazhdani, who oversaw a nationwide weapons-collection effort that at one point involved 250 officers.
Grazhdani said the task force did what it could to recover weapons, including carrying out house-to-house weapons checks that subjected citizens in possession of illegal weapons or ammunition to prosecution and up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted.
But for Grazhdani, police crackdowns weren't the answer.
"One could hardly imprison 200,000 Albanians with weapons," he told The Associated Press. "The government should reconsider either postponement of the voluntarily handover time, or find other ways like partial amnesties."
Enter the U.N. Development Program, which has hit on cash as a compelling carrot for disarmament.
Since 2000, the UNDP has been running two programs in eight Albanian districts, doling out more than $3 million in aid in exchange for weapons. Project spokesman Gert Guri said the UNDP is working with the government to find other innovative ways of coaxing the citizenry to disarm.
The program yielded immediate results in Ndroq, located near some army depots that were looted in March 1997 by mobs from nearby Tirana, said Afrim Azuni, a local official.
"Within three months, more than 270 weapons were handed over," Azuni said -- a drop in the bucket, but enough of a response to encourage the authorities.
Among the participants was Nuri, who handed in a Soviet-made Kalashnikov rifle. "I had a weapon and I didn't need it at all," she explained.
Others are more cautious about turning in their guns -- especially small arms such as pistols, which are easy to hide.
"Keeping it buried somewhere won't hurt anyone," a teenager who gave his name only as Agim said at a coffee bar in Ndroq. "I may need it someday to take care of myself and my family."
Goga, the top Ndroq official, thinks even more people would drop off weapons if the government would extend the deadline and offer more investment money. Ndroq still needs another $50,000 to completely repair its water system, she said.
"The last three months have showed Albanians don't like weapons other than for protecting themselves," she said. "When investment funds were offered, they chose the money."
Along with 400,000 Albanian squatters and carpetbaggerswho settled illegaly in Kosovo since then.
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