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Tirana bills its offer to take in 210 members of an Iranian resistance group a humanitarian gesture - an alternative explanation is that the government is just doing America’s bidding.
|Skenderbej Square, Tirana, Albania|
Albania’s government has offered asylum to 210 members of Mojahedin-e-Khalq (People’s Mujahedeen of Iran), MEK, an Iranian group opposed to the clerical regime of the Ayatollahs.
The Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, made the offer after meeting the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Barbara Leaf, and the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, on Saturday.
Albania “is ready to take a restricted number of 210 persons for humanitarian reasons,” Berisha said.
“They are welcome and we will create all the conditions for their safe residence in Albania,” he added.
This is not the first time that Tirana has offered to take in refugees on the request of the United States.
Since 2006, Albania has accepted the relocation of 11 former detainees of the US-run Guantanamo prison camp, including six ethnic Uighurs from China.
While Prime Minister Berisha bills the latest move an act of kindness, it comes at a time when he has been at odds with his Washington allies.
A recently leaked US State Department memo condemned his recent calls for pan-Albanian unity a threat to regional stability.
Washington has also expressed alarm over a number of court rulings concerning the January 21, 2011 riots in Tirana, which the US says has undermined faith in the judiciary and the rule of law.
Arjan Dyrmishi, head of the Center for European & Security Affairs at the Tirana Institute of Mediation and Democracy, IDM, told Balkan Insight that the transfer of the Iranians reflected Berisha’s desire to get back on side with America.
He also said that the government should answer number of questions before simply allowing hundreds of MEK members in.
“This is something that the US offered to the Albanian government, and as in the past, we can be very zealous to please them,” Dyrmishi noted.
But he said Albanians were entitled to know whether the MEK members were “planning to live here and integrate, or will stay for a determinate amount of time and then transferred somewhere else”.
The MEK, founded as a revolutionary organization in 1965, has opposed the clerical regime that has ruled Teheran since the overthrow of the US backed monarchy in 1979.
During the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s the MEK’s opposition to the regime took them onto the side of the Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein who gave them refuge. They fought on Iraq’s side in the war.
Unable to return home, nearly 3,200 members of the MEK currently reside in a former US base in Iraq, known as camp Liberty.
But Iraq is no longer a safe refuge and the government there is eager to relocate them out of the country.
The camp has come under violent attacks recently. It suffered a rocket attack as recently as February 9, which killed eight MEK members and injured more than 100.
Earlier, dozens were killed at their earlier refuge, Camp Ashraf, in northeast Iraq, after Iraqi security forces raided it.
In a statement on Sunday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, NCRI, a front group for MEK, said it welcomed Albania’s offer of sanctuary, but the group would move out of Iraq only if refuge was found for all of its members.
“As long as the residents of [camp] Liberty face the danger of another massacre, transferring small groups of Liberty residents outside of Iraq will simply increase the danger to the majority who stay [behind] in Liberty,” the NCRI said.
“Any solution should be quick and should include the whole population,” it added.
The US first asked Albania to take in some of the MEK members during the visit of the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on November 1.
According to the NRCI, representatives of camp Liberty wrote to the Albanian government, offering to cover all the costs of transfer if the number of those offered refuge could be increased.
Dyrmishi underlines that the Uighurs were taken in at a time when there was a plan to close the Guantanamo camp. The number of relocated ex-detainees was very small, none was considered dangerous, and in any case they were distributed among allied nations to rehabilitate them into society.
But in the case of the MEK members, the numbers are much larger, it is unclear what status they will have and there could be security issues.
Both Iran and Iraq deem the MEK a terrorist organization – though the European Union and the US no longer do so.
Britain struck the group off its terror list in June 2008, followed by the European Union in 2009 and the US in September 2012.
“The issue is: what will become of these people, what is their future in this country, considering that they are paramilitary group and not simply refugees,” Dyrmishi noted.
The Hague Tribunal has been successful in bringing wartime commanders to justice but hasn’t met expectations on reconciliation, chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told BIRN.