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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tirana Asks Athens for Crisis Talks

TIRANA -- Albania has offered to hold talks under international supervision with its Balkan neighbor Greece in an attempt to halt a growing crisis between Tirana and Athens, government officials said on Wednesday.

Albanian President Sali Berisha made the offer during a meeting on Tuesday evening with Max van der Stoel, minorities commissioner of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"We invite Greece to start talks under the supervision of a third party," presidential spokesman Genc Pollo quoted Berisha as saying.

Relations between the Balkan states plunged to a new low this month amid Greek charges of harassment by Tirana of the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania.

Tensions rose further when five ethnic Greeks were put on trial on spying charges in Tirana and a Greek plane flew over Albanian territory dropping leaflets calling for the overthrow of the Albanian government.

Berisha recalled Albania's ambassador to Athens on Monday following the Greek flight and urged Washington and NATO to press Greece to stop what it called provocative acts.

Pollo said Albania was ready to hold talks with Athens under the auspices of a third party such as the CSCE, the European Union or any other body on which both sides could agree.

Berisha said there had been no reaction from Athens to several appeals for talks from Tirana but he added Albania would stick to dialogue as the only way to overcome the current crisis.

"Our repeated invitations have been categorically rejected by the Greek side which does not seem ready for the bilateral contacts we deem possible," Pollo quoted Berisha as saying.

Albanian Defense Minister Safet Zhulali said the intrusion of the Greek plane into Albanian air space was the latest in a series of provocations by Greece.

He referred to a raid on an Albanian conscript camp in April in which two soldiers were killed, shooting by Greek border guards on an Albanian patrol 800 meters inside Albania in July and violation of Albanian territorial waters by Greek ships.

Greece denied any official involvement in the flight over Albania and said the pilot, a colonel in the reserve forces, was suspended pending an investigation.

Berisha appeared to disregard the explanation, denouncing the propaganda flight as hostile provocation and accusing Athens of launching a "Cold War" against Tirana.