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First Albanians Arrive in Czechoslovakia; 5,000 Cram Embassies

July 10, 1990

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ The first of more than 5,000 Albanians who rushed foreign embassies in Tirana in a desperate bid to emigrate arrived in Prague early Tuesday aboard the personal plane of Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel.

In the Albanian capital, a U.N. envoy was trying to negotiate safe passage abroad for the thousands stranded in their flight from Europe’s last bastion of hard-line Communism.

Havel sent his Soviet-built TU-154 to Tirana and it arrived back at about 1:15 a.m. carrying 51 Albanians who sought asylum in the Czechoslovak Embassy.

The beaming occupants, all adults, yelled ″Long live Havel 3/8″ before being whisked away on buses to dormitories in an outlying district of Prague.

Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier told reporters at the capital’s airport that Czechoslovakia got the refugees out first due to ″a little luck and a lot of patience.″

He said most of the group wanted to emigrate to the United States, but that in any event, ″we’re not going to send them back.″

In a brief dispatch, Albania’s state ATA news agency had announced that the group left shortly before midnight Monday.

ATA said ″a group of Albanian citizens, sheltering in the Czechoslovak Embassy, left for Prague with regular documents.″

Although Albanian authorities agreed Saturday to permit all the Albanian asylum-seekers to leave under foreign supervision, the process of providing them with travel documents and transportation was expected to take days.

Albanian authorities continued on Monday to refuse aid shipments for the would-be-emigres packed in Western embassies.

The Austria Press Agency reported from Tirana that 2.5 tons of supplies destined for the West German and French embassies were flown out on the same Swissair plane they came on because authorities did not permit unloading.

About 3,000 Albanians seeking asylum were jammed behind the gates of the West German Embassy.

Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher promised that ″those Albanians wishing to come to Germany will be welcomed,″ the ministry said in Bonn.

About 1,000 Albanians were in the Italian Embassy.

The refugees overwhelmed the missions, which have been unable to provide sufficient food and water. Sanitary conditions were bad. Genscher termed the situation ″intolerable.″

One refugee gave birth to a girl in the West German compound over the weekend, the Germans said.

The shaken Albanian leadership announced more government changes on Monday, an apparent attempt to reduce public dissatisfaction over shortages of food and other consumer items in that nation of 3.2 million people.

The Albanian parliament fired Jovan Bardhi, the minister in charge of food production, and Vita Kapo, minister of light industry, and reassigned ministers of public services and home trade, ATA reported.

The changes followed the replacement of the minister of police and the minister of war on Sunday.

ATA also announced wage reforms that will result in more wage differentiation and said unemployment benefits would be paid to workers idled through no fault of their own.

Many of the more than 5,000 Albanians crowding foreign embassies have said they seek a better economic life abroad.

A spokesman at the Foreign ministry in Budapest, Gyoergy Lukacs, said six of the 40 Albanians at the Hungarian Embassy expressed a desire to settle in Hungary. Most wanted to go to the United States, he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he had no information about requests to travel to the United States and no comment on what U.S. policy would be toward such requests. There is no U.S. Embassy in Tirana.

In Paris, the Foreign Ministry said the formalities of obtaining passports for the 550 refugees at its embassy in Tirana were moving along rapidly, and ″we hope they will be finished by the end of the day.″

The asylum-seekers, some dodging police bullets, began taking refuge on June 28. Albanian authorities pledged Saturday that those seeking to emigrate would receive travel papers.

Hanns Schumacher, spokesman for the West German Foreign Ministry, said in Bonn that a U.N. envoy was representing the West German, Italian, French and Greek embassies in talks with the Albanian government.

About 30 Albanians were in the Greek Embassy.

Albania’s Communist leader, Ramiz Alia, has begun this year to institute some cautious economic reforms in an attempt to alleviate shortages and raise the standard of living by creating incentives for workers and farmers.

For 45 years, travel for average Albanians has been virtually impossible. But since the death of President Enver Hoxha in 1985, Albanian leaders have sought better ties abroad and in the last year began to implement reforms. Albania this year has been seeking better relations with the outside world.

New regulations that took effect Tuesday entitled all Albanians over age 16 to own a passport.

Police sealed off Tirana’s embassy row on Sunday to prevent more Albanians from taking refuge, but some appeared to be getting through.

In Warsaw, the Polish Foreign Ministry reported 51 Albanians at its embassy, compared to 46 Sunday.

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