Albanian Revolt Spreads Into North

TIRANA, Albania -- Albanian President Sali Berisha appointed a new prime minister from the opposition Socialist Party on Tuesday in a bid to halt an armed rebellion sweeping the south.


The appointment came after reports that the unrest had spread to the north of the country for the first time since the insurgency broke out last month.


Government sources said insurgents in military barracks in Bajram Curri and Kukes, both over 200 kilometers northeast of Tirana, had looted arms from the facilities.


"They just wanted to protect themselves in case they are attacked," said one source.


Berisha appointed Bashkim Fino, an economist from the southern town of Gjirokaster, now in rebel hands, to replace Aleksander Meksi of the ruling Democratic Party, who resigned last week.


His appointment was announced on state television as Berisha was locked in negotiations with political party leaders on formation of a new national unity government to rule until new elections by June.


However, rebel leaders in the south appeared to reject the deal on Tuesday, saying they would not hand back their arms unless Berisha steps down.


"Weapons won't be turned in without guarantees. Our basic demand is for Berisha to resign," said Fuad Karali, chief of rebel police in the southern port of Sarande.


The rebels accuse the president of failing to intervene over shady pyramid savings schemes that collapsed earlier this year along with the life savings of thousands of families, particularly in the more prosperous south.


The anti-government revolt has brought the southwest corner of Albania under rebel control, from the Adriatic ports of Vlore and Sarande to the inland towns of Delvine, Gjirokaster, Tepelene, Permet and Berat.


In Vlore, a rebel delegation agreed to Berisha's deal with opposition parties for new elections, but rebels elsewhere rejected any compromise while the president remained in power.


Some 150,000 assault rifles have been looted from barracks during a week of rage. Tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy cannon and even fighter jets were seized and now guard the approaches to the rebel towns.


With so many weapons around, the situation in rebel-held towns was volatile. In Sarande, looters ransacked and set fire to a hotel, ignoring a warning from the rebel-led council that looters would be punished.


In Kucove, some 100 kilometers south of Tirana, rebels were taking stock after seizing one of Albania's main military airbases, giving them control of about one fifth of the country's warplanes.


Angry pilots in front of 19 aging Mig fighters were bitter over losing money in the savings schemes, and declared they could not obey orders to resist the insurgents.