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Albania to destroy 100,000 weapons looted in 1997

looted weapons
More than 600,000 weapons were looted during Albania's "pyramid" crisis  

TIRANA -- Albania is to collect and destroy 100,000 small arms from civilians who stole them from army depots during the pyramid selling crisis that rocked the country in 1997.

The United States, Germany and Norway will assist in the massive weapons destruction programme which is expected to take two years to complete, officials said.

More than 600,000 weapons were looted in the anarchy caused when fraudulent pyramid schemes collapsed, wiping out the savings of thousands of Albanians. More than half-a-million weapons remain in civilian hands.

"Albania reaffirms its intention to destroy small arms and light weapons looted during the 1997 crisis, including those that have been collected and will be collected," the Albanian Defence Minister Ilir Gjoni said in a joint statement with the three donors.

Eric Newsom, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs, said the U.S. strongly supported the Albanian project and would also like other countries in the Balkans, rocked by wars in the last decade, to follow suit.

"Albania will set an example for other countries in the region to deal with the problem of small arms," he said.

Gjoni said the partners had yet to discuss the project in detail but they favoured melting down the weapons at the steel works in Elbasan, in central Albania.

Albanians are reluctant to part with their guns due to the impoverished country's frequent bouts of instability. This has forced parliament to extend the collection deadline until 2002.

Rioting erupted across Albania, often described as Europe's poorest country, when pyramid investment schemes collapsed causing tens of thousands of people to lose their life savings.

The crisis brought down the government of Dr. Sali Berisha, the country's first non-communist president who came to power in 1992 after the communists lost their 50-year grip on power.

Weapons were looted from army stores as angry mobs took to the streets and the popularity of the Berisha presidency nose-dived and the country descended into near anarchy.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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