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Reports claim Kosovo Liberation Army arming guerrilla group within Greece; Government is dismissive [4 June 2001]

By Miron Varouhakis

News reports claiming that the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army was arming an Albanian guerrilla group inside Greece to "defend" the rights of Albanians were dismissed by government officials this week. But the claims highlighted what appears to be a growing agitation movement over the Internet. The Foreign Ministry and government spokesmen responded to a report over the Internet by a news agency of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on comments ostensibly made by a Switzerland-based representative of the KLA to Australian radio.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis reacted angrily on Wednesday, charging that "the sick imaginations of some terrorist elements who are trying to raise non-existent issues have no limits."

On Thursday, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas played down the report. "We don't give it more importance than necessary, because otherwise we are playing their game," said Reppas. He noted, though, that "we are watching closely the statements and actions of certain groups."

The officials were referring to comments ostensibly made last week by KLA representative Ali Ahmeti regarding the existence of a "Camouria Liberation Army" in northwestern Greece, which is ready to "defend" the rights of ethnic Albanians living in the region. He reportedly told an Australian radio station that the rights of the Albanians living in northwestern Greece should be "defended" by the representatives of the "already established and well-trained Camouria Liberation Army."

Yesterday Ahmeti denied that he had made such comments in an interview with the BBC.

Playing the issue down

Government officials were clear in their statements that no such group exists in the region, and that the Albanian government has discredited the actions of paramilitary groups such as the KLA and National Liberation Army waging a rebellion in FYROM.

For the record, the Cams (pronounced "Chams") were a group of Albanians who lived in the northwestern Greek province of Thesprotia (with the 1926 population census putting their number at 19,605). During the Italian and German occupation of Greece in World War II, they cooperated with the invaders, leading to their flight to Albania after the war. They were condemned in absentia by a court and their land expropriated. Some of them have formed pressure groups in Albania but Athens has rejected any effort by Tirana to raise such an issue.

On the Internet, though, Albanian groups appear to have launched an "information campaign" to put pressure on Greece on an issue that Athens says does not exist. Various groups present maps depicting a "Greater Albania" which includes a large area of northwestern Greece, and forums promoting the "repatriation" of ethnic Albanians.

On one website (www.albabel.yucom.be) one reads: "A large number of Cam population is situated on the seaside and goes up to the Gulf of Preveza. Another considerable number of towns and villages are situated on both sides of the river 'Kalamait.' The rest of the Cam villages and towns are situated in more remote places and often on hills and mountains... The Greek government has been very hostile toward Cams and the main reason is the fact that Cams have a very strong Albanian identity... To this day we Cams in Greece are described as bad people from an increasing 'suffocating' Greek propaganda based on the fact that we refuse to be assimilated as is the case with some of 'Arvanites' in south and central Greece."

The rather new website (it has had just 11 visits so far) also carries maps of what it calls "Chameria" and illustrations of historic Cam warriors. Another website is that of the Boston-based Frosina Information Network (www.frosina.org/infobits/albgreece), an electronic forum which Albanians use to exchange ideas over current affairs. In the section titled "Albanians in Greece" one reads: "The Albanians in Greece are divided in two categories: Albanians who live on Albanian territory but who have remained outside of the unjust borders which were drawn up by the Ambassadorial Conference of London (1913), and those Albanians who departed Albanian territory during the first diaspora in the 14th and 15th centuries."

(c) 'Kathimerini,' 2001. Reprinted for Fair Use Only.


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