IBNA Special Report/The possibility of the arrival of chemical weapons into the country is the current topic of debate in Albania. The first refusal ever against USA has come and we may not after all be the most pro American country any longer. We hear from politicians, experts and citizens
By Edison Kurani
The possibility of the arrival of chemical weapons to be destroyed in a military plant has become the topic of debate in Albania. The request has officially come from the USA and United Nations Organization considers it as an obligation of the member states to contribute in order to eliminate the world danger of the use of chemical weapons. According to international media which reported it first, the request was made to several countries, including Albania and Norway.
International media were the first to announce the news
FP: USA and Albania close to finalizing an agreement on the Syrian weapons
While there hasn’t yet been a decision as to where his chemical weapons will end up, the government of Bashar Al-Assad has submitted to the UNO monitoring agency a detailed plan for the transfer of chemical materials abroad.
The detailed and confidential plan made public by “Foreign Policy”, includes 120 Syrian security forces, tens of armored lorries and an advanced network of communication which links Damascus to the Mediterranean sea. The request for civil and military equipment has caused concerns amongst western diplomats.
“We will see this list in a very skeptical way, especially those objects which will turn into a military program”, said a Security Council diplomat.
The Syrian plan requires at least 8 groups with 35 soldiers each to guarantee transport from Damascus to the port city of Latakias, where the weapons will be taken across the sea to be destroyed.
According to “Foreign Policy”, the most likely destination continues to be Albania and USA are very close to reaching an agreement with Albanian authorities in order to accept this mission of destroying Syrian chemical weapons and this is confirmed by Security Council diplomats.
Russia, which has one of the largest plants in the world for the destruction of chemical weapons, has declared that it may participate in the process, but within the territory of Syria alone.
For the first time USA is refused by Albanians
But, this request of the USA has been largely refused by the Albanian public opinion and this is the first time that Albania is against the USA. The country with no more than 4 million inhabitants has never refused America on any requests, even a few months ago when it welcomed Guantanamo prisoners.
Albanians in the USA and in the other Albanian state, Kosovo, are grateful to the USA about the war against Serbia and about the help offered for the proclamation and the recognition of the independence of Kosovo.
This way, the possibility of the arrival of chemical weapons to Albania, which is not accepted by the majority of public opinion, is risking turning Albania into an anti-American country. Let us not forget that Albania is one of the few countries, including Kosovo, known to be pro-American.
There has never been any protest against USA in the Albanian countries and its highest officials have never been received through protests, like it’s the case in other countries, but with flowers.
Some people believe that the request to bring chemical weapons to Albania is putting in danger this tradition and may make Albania an anti-American country.
Does the prime minister apply two standards?
Prime Minister Edi Rama has had a telephone conversation which lasted 45 minutes with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry. The conversation focused on the chemical weapons.
Up until now, officially, the Albanian government says that it hasn’t come up with a decision yet.
But the fact that the government is accepting to engage in talks with the USA in order to possibly bring chemical weapons, means fully diverting from the program of the party of prime minister Rama.
During the electoral campaign, Mr. Rama strongly criticized the bill approved by the government of Sali Berisha for the import of several recyclable wastes from European countries. This bill was considered as anti-Albanian, harmful to tourism and the environment.
On the first day that Rama’s government started its work, the first decision of this government was to abrogate the bill on the import of recyclable wastes.
Based on these facts, several people believe that Prime Minister Rama is using two standards. On one hand he criticized the right wing majority, which is in opposition today, about the bill on the import of wastes and abrogated it as soon as he came into power, and on the other hand, he is agreeing to engage in talks in order to accept chemical weapons into Albania.
A part of the citizens support chemical weapons
Several citizens asked during a poll held by balkaneu.com in the main streets of Tirana, believe that this is a delicate issue, which must not be further dragged on.
Arben, a 33 year old working as an electronic engineer in a private company, says that there’s nothing bad about chemical weapons being destroyed in Albania as long as USA kept the responsibility for the process and not Albania.
Artemida begs to differ. “If chemical weapons come into Albania, tourism is destroyed. Nobody would choose Albania if these weapons come from Syria to Albania. Would you go on holidays to Syria? If these weapons come to Albania, then so long to tourism! Artemida adds in a sarcastic way: “At least we would be doing a favor to Syria, we would develop their tourism, by getting rid of their chemical weapons and improving their bad image, at the detriment of our country”.
Ramiz is 56 years of age and works as a teacher in a high school in Tirana. He says that he understands that fact that the government has accepted to engage in talks with the USA on the chemical weapons.
“Albania is in a difficult position. It’s a known fact that Albania has supported us on any national issue. We have also supported it. Now our country is before a test. If we refuse, then we must not be surprised if the US support for Albania falls and if its interest drops”.
Meanwhile, Dritan, 36 years of age, looks at the financial aspect of things. “I’ve heard that the government may earn lots of money from this process, we’re talking about billions of USD. Given that the treasury is empty, why can’t we bring chemical weapons into the country? Let us destroy them here. There will be objection about tourism, but after a year, everything will be forgotten. If the state becomes stronger, then maybe we will see more works done by the government”.
Chemical weapons expert: There’s no danger of the weapons are destroyed in Albania
In the past 20 years, Albania has continued a long process of the destruction of military weapons and ammunitions inherited from the communist regime. The funding has mainly come from USA/EU and funds of the Albanian government. But during these two decades, there have been several fatal incidents. 26 people died, hundreds of others were wounded and tens of millions of Euros worth of damage were caused as a result of the destruction of military ammunition being destroyed in a plant in Gerdec, Tirana.
Earlier, but even after the events of Gerdec, several other incidents have led to deaths, but to a smaller extent.
This makes people be scared of the possibility of the destruction of around 1090 tons of Syrian chemical weapons.
But experts say that there’s no reason to be alarmed.
Fadil Vuca is an old specialist of the Albanian army. He has been a coordinator of the process of the destruction of the arsenal of chemical weapons inherited by the communist regime in Albania, around 56 tons of chemical weapons of the first and third category.
Mr. Vuca says that the chemical elements that Albania has destroyed are the same as those of Syria, which are being asked to be sent to Albania.
In a declaration for the media, Mr. Vuca has stressed that there are no proofs that the destruction of chemical weapons in Albania has brought harmful repercussions for the health of the people and for the environment, like environmentalists and other groups of civil society claim.
“From my experience in such operations, I’ve seen that they are well controlled and monitored by inspectors of the Organization against Chemical Weapons from the start of the construction of the destruction plant up to the end of the entire process”, says Mr. Vuca.
Asked as to whether Albania has the right capacities for such process, he says: “The operation has three phases and it’s very difficult. The challenges are many. The first half includes the transport of chemical weapons agents, the second part relates to the process of destruction and the third process relates to the treatment of wastes after the process. The entire operation is a challenge, because we have to do with chemical weapons agents”. He immediately raises a question: “Did we have the necessary capacities from 2001 to 2007 for such operations?”
Other specialists: Albania doesn’t have the necessary capacities for the destruction of chemical weapons
Other specialists say that Albania doesn’t have the necessary capacities to destroy chemical weapons and that there’s no national security and specialists against a potential poisoning. According to him, these wastes remain a danger. Experts say that there was no reason to choose a weak NATO country for this purpose.
Qemal Poci, former expert of toxicology in the Albanian armed forces has another version on the debate of chemical weapons: “In 2007 we have said that we have destroyed 16 tons of chemical weapons and USA allocated 35 million USD. We have not had chemical weapons. They were military poisoning substances which have properties that cause damages to humans, plants and animals. But they are not weapons. They are used to fill ammunitions. The chemical substances in Qafe Molle are different to chemical weapons. We don’t deserve what foreign media write, according to which were the first country in the world for chemical weapons”, said Mr. Poci.
Former deputy prime minister Tritan Shehu
Democrat MP in opposition, Tritan Shehu says that public debates must not be made on basis of amateurism. According to him, the debate on the chemical arsenal of Syria is filled with emotions and not professionalism.
“Let us not forget: We live in a real and non virtual world. We are part of global developments and multi national structures of NATO, EU, conventions, etc. We cannot behave as if we are Robinsons! I cannot say if we have technical capacities for such dismantling to take place without negative consequences or not. Let this issue be judged by our specialists in collaboration with those of NATO, USA, etc. Let them submit studies and clear, transparent and real conclusions. But let us not forget that we are part of a wide and concrete reality. We have interactions, interests and joint obligations. We can further decide based on this and not based on amateurism”, says former deputy prime minister and former minister of Foreign Affairs, Tritan Shehu, a renowned doctor in Albania.
Former speaker of parliament, Kastriot Islami
Kastriot Islami MP, former speaker of parliament and former minister of foreign affairs, considers the arrival of chemical weapons to Albania as unacceptable.
Reports talk about large expenses for this process. Mr. Islami quotes: “Through the funding of USA, 16 tons of moutarde were destroyed at a cost of 35 million Euros or 2.2 million Euros per ton. 1290 tons of chemical weapons may come from Syria. At least 2.8 billion Euros may be needed for their destruction”.
As a known mathematician, Mr. Islami raises 5 questions:
“Will the entire arsenal of weapons consisting on 1290 tons be destroyed in Albania? If the answer is yes, then will all the equipment, means, experts and everything else will be made available and will everything cost 2.8 billion Euros? How long is this process is going to last? How long will this process last? Have the measures for their transport and safety from Rinas (if they arrive with an airplane) and from Durres, Vlora and Shengjin if they come by ship, have been assessed? Has there been an assessment as to the impact that the news that Syrian chemical weapons will be destroyed in Albania will have on foreign tourists?”
US ambassador: Responsibilities should be taken
American ambassador, Alexander Arvizu said that Albania is amongst the nations which must find an effective way to destroy chemical weapons. Mr. Arvizu says that USA is hopeful that “Albania will continue its path toward the EU”.
“USA praises the strong positioning of the Albanian government on the resolution of the UNO Security Council Resolution 2218 and the program of the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. It’s up to the responsible nations, where USA and Albania belong, to find an efficient and timely way in order to collaborate to eliminate the threat which is imposed by Syria’s chemical weapons program. USA and Albania are NATO members and only 26 other nations have the same status. We truly hope that Albania will continue its journey toward the EU, by working together with Albania and other partners in order to find a way in finding the equipment, specialists, expertise, financial assistance and all this to tackle the threat that these chemical weapons impose”, said Arvizu.
Civil society and political class together like never before
Red and Black Alliance have demanded from the President of Republic to summon the National Security Council and all the parties in favor and against the destruction of chemical weapons in Albania. Kreshnik Spahiu, chairman of this party said: “The National Security Council alone can guarantee and protect the interests of the state, people, but also the professional discretion in relation to our military allies”.
Spahiu’s party believes that the silence of the government is worrying and especially that of the prime minister in relation to this sensitive issue for the public opinion.
The head of the opposition MPs calls for protests
Edi Paloka, head of the parliamentary group of the Democratic Party in opposition says that the silence of the government on chemical weapons shows arrogance and arbitrariness. “The government keeps quiet and refuses to make transparency, because it doesn’t fear to the judgment of Albanians. It doesn’t fear the judgment of Albanians because it believes than when judgment day comes, it can buy the votes, says Mr. Paloka.
This party has called upon the people to come out on a protest on Monday afternoon against the arrival of chemical weapons and against what it considers to be the sale and purchase of votes in the partial local government elections of November 3.
A woman from Syria in the protest: They’re using Albania
Aliaah Noha is a 30 year old woman from Syria. She’s been living in Albania for a while. In fact, in the recent months, almost everyday, there have been Syrian nationals coming into the Albanian borders aiming to stay in Albania or to use the country as a transit country to reach the EU.
Aliah has her own opinion over the possibility of the arrival of chemical substances: Weak countries such as Syria and now Albania are being used. The life of the people is at stake, but our life has more value. As a Syrian national, I would feel sorry of chemical weapons were to come here in Albania. I’m against this process to take place in Albania”.
On the other hand, Noha launches an accusation for the two most powerful countries in the world and says that the people of Syria don’t fear rebels there: “America and Russia are playing with Syrian blood. Massacres are taking place in Syria on a daily basis. The Syrian people don’t fear the Syrian rebels”.
Environmentalists in daily protests
Association of Albania Environmentalists raised its voice against chemical weapons as soon as the news was announced by foreign media. For many years, Sazan Guri has tried to prevent state projects which damage the environment.
In the recent days, he has led protests in Tirana, where he demands for every negotiation on chemical weapons to be suspended.
“We’re against the destruction of chemical weapons in Albania. The health of the Albanian families is important. Albania is not the rubbish bin of Europe”.
A petition is signed online
Alliance against the Import of Wastes (AKIP) has signed a peticion which invites all the citizens of Albania (and not only) to sign it against the dismantlement of Syrian chemical weapons in Albania. AKIP calls upon the Albanian Government to refuse the import of chemical weapons from Syria. This organization says that the import of chemical weapons from Syria is a major risk for the life and the environment of Albanian people.
Will chemical weapons arrive to Albania?
While the Albanian people have many economic and social problems, the recent “bomb” which has been launched has diverted the attention from the day to day problems of the citizens. This whole atmosphere filled with the doubt that chemical weapons are coming to Albania, is not being clarified by the authorities.
Nonetheless, many believe that these weapons will never come. In fact, Albania is not a Nordic country. Its tourism is still virgin and a possible penetration of chemical weapons could destroy the image of the country and would cause an anti-American wave. This would in turn make foreign tourists, the number of whom has grown in the recent years, leave. But a large scale movement could end up in the weakening of the government and could provoke early elections. The possibility of a referendum would also cause premises for the government to fail if it decides to accept chemical weapons. These and many other reasons will be taken under consideration by the government in its decision.
If a lot of noise has been made for nothing in this process, then this would be called a successful movement and tactic. The government would earn high credibility in the eyes of the people by strengthening its position. /ibna/