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News 10 Nov 17

Albanian, Greek FMs Head to Crete to Solve Disputes

Albanian and Greek Foreign Ministers are meeting in Crete for two days of talks, aimed at resolving a mass of past and present disputes that are dogging relations between the two countries. 

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
Greek MFA, Nikolaos Kotzias (left) and his Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati during a meeting in Athens on March. Photo: Albanian MFA

Albanian and Greek officials head on Friday to Crete, Greece, for two days of planned talks on past and present disputes dogging often tetchy relations between the two Balkan countries.

The talks will be headed by the Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati and his Greek counterpart Nikolaos Kotzias, each accompanied by a large group of experts and diplomats.

"The two ministers and their teams are going to discuss all the open issues between the two countries, including those of a historic character," the Albanian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The talks will aim to reach a final agreement between the two countries after expert groups worked for two years on solving issues that have impeded closer collaboration.

One hot issue facing the two delegations is the maritime border between Albania and Greece.

In January 2010, Albania's Constitutional Court annulled an earlier maritime border deal signed by former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his then Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis in 2009 in Tirana.

The court ruled that it had serious legal flaws, after Berisha's foes at home accused him of giving away 225 square kilometers of territorial water to Greece for no reason.

The court ruling damaged relationships between the countries, and for years since then experts from both countries have negotiated on how to resolve the dispute.

Another thorny issue dating back decades is the technical state of war that has existed between the two countries since World War Two.

Greece passed a law declaring a state of war after Italian forces occupying Albania attacked Greece in October 1940. The Greek parliament has yet to abolish the law even though the two countries signed a friendship agreement in the early 1990s.

Albania has called the issue absurd, and has said that this state of affairs needs to end immediately.

But Greece is seeking concessions from Albania about the rights of the Greek minority in southern Albania. Dealing with the legal procedures of numerous Albanians working in Greece is also going to be on the agenda.

It is not yet clear whether the issue of the so-called Cham minority is going to be part of Crete negotiations.

The community comprises ethnic Albanians who were expelled en masse from northern Greece after World War II, when Greek authorities accused them of collaborating with the German occupation.

Now organised and represented in Albania's parliament, the Chams have pushed Albania hard to pressure Greece on the matter of their lost property. They also want Greece to recognise that the expulsion in 1944 was an act of genocide.

However, the Greek side has resolutely denied the existence of a "Cham issue", insisting that the Albanians pushed out of Greece were Nazi collaborators who had forfeited their rights.

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