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June 13, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 142
On the YugoslavAlbanian Border

Trade Over Sights

by Ljiljana Nikolic, Perica Vucinic, Velizar Brajovic and Dragoslav Grujic (VREME documentary center)

During the blockade of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Albania was, until recently, Montenegro's only outlet to the world. Part of the border with the other federal unit (Serbia), was open only to one side: since Serbs weren't interested in visiting Albania either as tourists or businessmen, Albanians visited Serbia. They were mostly smugglers of petroleum products and persons with relatives in Kosovo. Since the border with Albania is guarded only on the Yugoslav side, illegal crossings are frequent and they are often followed with armed skirmishes.

As of recently, traffic across the Montenegrin border has also dropped. Western pressure forced the Albanian Government to step up its control of the border, and the police were given wide competencies in stopping the ``oil pipeline'' leading to Montenegro. The authorities in Tirana confirmed that six Montenegrins and 24 Albanians were arrested on May 26 for smuggling petrol. The police in Shkoder bragged of having discovered two handmade oil pipelines passing under the border river Buna. Some Albanian army officers have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the smuggling. With these moves, Albania wished to show that it was adhering strictly to the UN Security Resolution banning oil exports, and to deny information from Podgorica that it had stopped passenger traffic across the border with Montenegro.

In order to make a profit, a smuggler from Albania must have a Yugoslav visa. In order that a Yugoslav citizen might visit Albania, he must have an Albanian entry visa and an ``internal visa'' which is issued by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior. The second is usually valid until the passport expires. Albanians often have problems getting an ``internal visa,'' especially if they are suspected of supporting separatism in Kosovo.

Albania is important for Montenegrin smugglers and businessmen alike. In Tirana, Duress, Shkoder and Valona, Montenegrin and Yugoslav businessmen have opened a chain of companies. It is said that there are more of them than in Cyprus. Duress has a direct link with the Italian port of Bari, while Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Lekic departs on his missions from Tirana airport. There are many firms in Albania whose owners come from the former Yugoslav republics. Thanks to Albania, Montenegro has not been lacking in consumer goods, oil and oil products, while it sold its electricity to Albania.

After the disaster with smuggled oil in warehouses in Plavnica near Podgorica, the Montenegrin Government admitted that the fuel came from Albania. An order was issued, on where the oil could be poured off, and that all private entrepreneurs were to sell petrol at the buy off stations of the Kotorbased ``Jugopetrol'' company. It is no longer a secret that fuel from Montenegro went on to Serbia and the Serb Republic in BH. Three places have been discovered with pipelines crossing the Bojana river. A fleet of boats with specially made tanks and metal drums transported oil daily across Lake Skadar. Enormous profits have lured farmers and fishermen away from their usual occupations. Fuel also arrived overland in specially adapted cars.

After the introduction of exit taxes for Yugoslav citizens travelling abroad, the business was taken over by Albanians at the Bozaj crossing. Lately, (after Mihalj Kertes became Director of Customs), customs officers have started charging Albanians 100 DEM fines if the quantity of petrol they were bringing into the country exceeded the car's petrol tank. This fine was recently paid by an Albanian diplomat. Apart from these fines, Albanians also have to bribe customs officers and policemen patrolling the road.

At the exit from Tuzi, in the direction of Bozaj, a local pointed out the police patrol to us. ``That's the gate.'' An Albanian smuggler slowed down, letting the engine run. He didn't show any documents but offered several boxes of cigarettes and bottles of whiskey and Albanian cognac.

At the Bozaj crossing there were many cars parked on both sides of the gate. The customs officers did not wish to talk. They said that they could make statements only with Mihalj Kertes's approval. We learned later that several policemen and customs officers had been arrested. Smugglers from Montenegro say that over thirty of their ``business partners'' in Albania were arrested fifteen days ago. One man was let out on bail totalling 5,000 dollars, because a family member had died. Those who have done well, have to pay 10,00030,000 dollars.

Dragan Stojanov, VREME's host at the ``Vrbnica'' blockhouse on the Albanian Serbian border, said that his soldiers had captured oil smuggling caravans of 30 horses and 80 men. Border guards have also come across cartons of cigarettes, said Stojanov.

People in other border settlements speak of frequent incursions by thieves. Twentyfive horses were stolen in the village of Restelica. The thieves then kept the good horses and let the others loose. Slovan Stanisic, commander of the border unit of the Djakovica garrison said in a TV Pristina program that there have been cases, lately, when armed Albanians from Albania attacked ethnic Yugoslav Albanians who have shepherd huts and cabins close to the border line. ``The matter concerns attempts by armed gangs from Albanian territory at crossing the border illegally and robbing the local population. That's when clashes occur, so that the army has offered some citizens medical aid,'' said Stanisic.

The ``Vrbnik'' crossing, 16 kilometers from Prizren, is one of the two legal crossings between Kosovo and Albania. The column of cars on the Albanian side waits up to nine hours to cross. When the customs officers start to work, things move quickly. The entry procedure is quick and brief.

Oil derivatives are the main products being smuggled. After crossing the border, the contents of the reservoir, usually a doublebottom one, are tanked in Prizren. The smugglers bring the fuel to regular customers. A liter of petrol in Albania costs between 1.151.35 DEM. The Yugoslav wholesale buyer pays between 1.501.60 DEM, while the price in Prizren is 2.53 DEM, depending on the quality. And the quality is always suspect, because Albanian refineries produce 60 octane fuel. Albania imports higher quality fuel from Greece and mixes it with water, domestic low octane fuel and paraffin. This is why, retailers often make a face when asked if the petrol is good.

A typical Albanian fuel smuggler lives in a border village close to the border crossing. He drives a big, battered car bought in Italy or Prizren (Kosovo). He is talkative, but won't give his name fearing that ``someone'' might make trouble over his entry visa. He earns 600700 DEM/month and complains that Albania does not allow him to transport petrol and diesel in drums and canisters.

We learned unofficially that a hundredodd cars cross the border daily. Pedestrians also cross the border carrying less profitable goodsbulbs, which cost 0.40 DEM in Albania and 0.50 DEM here. An 18 DEM hairdryer will sell in Prizren for 20 DEM. Chewing gum costs 4 DEM/box in Albania and 5 DEM after crossing the border.

Hasan from Novo Selo in Albania had all this. Along with ten compatriots he waited for the bus or a passing car to take him to the city. People are kind, so that some form of transport is soon found. They pack ``Skenderbeg'' cognac, plastic sandals, troughs, and coffee mills into the car, including cigarettes whose origin is unknown to them too. Some are produced in Macedonia, others have Macedonian import labels. Hasan and the other pedestrians can earn only 1015 DEM.

The atmosphere at the border crossing is convivial. Children from ethnic Albanian villages on the Yugoslav side, greet automobiles with Albanian registration plates with joy.

When one leaves the smugglingbrigand sphere and enters the realm of politics, the story of the SerbianAlbanian border takes on a different dimension. Stories concerning illegal crossings can be bloody.

``Until two years ago the YugoslavAlbanian border was the safest,'' said Major Zlatko Semic, commander of the Yugoslav army border battalion of the Prizren garrison. When he says this, Simic is thinking of the zeal once shown by both sides in guarding their side of the border. Judging by the situation in the field, zeal is now characteristic only of the Yugoslav side. Dragan Stojanov, commander of the ``Vrbnica'' blockhouse near Prizren slept in his office before the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in order that he might be on the spot. But, it was then that the Albanians stopped patrolling their side of the border and spent all their time in the watchtowers. Major Semic said: ``They seem to think that the border doesn't exist.'' The last big incident at ``Vrbnica'' blockhouse took place in March last year when five Albanians were shot, one of them a Yugoslav citizen. The soldier's explanations is simple``they didn't stop when cautioned.'' The warning has three grades, and the potential victim of a border incident has another ``two seconds in which to decide'' (just like the border patrol). This is the time is takes to release the safety catch on the clip.

One of those who didn't have luck with the ``two seconds'' was Batmana man from a nearby Albanian village. Border officers believe that he crossed the border illegally more than a hundred times. On reaching Prizren he liked to call the border patrol and tell them that he was still around. Soldiers believe that he is responsible for the disappearance of several hundred meters of telephone line between the blockhouse and the watchtower. And then, one night, Batman fired, and was killed. Since then, at interborder committee meetings, the Albanian side has criticized the Yugoslav side of brutality. While the Yugoslav side argues that two wounded men were treated in Prizren that same night and then returned to Albania.

Death on the border has confirmed the rule that fear is the best keeper of borders. The 109 kilometerslong border is guarded by a battalion of soldiers from the Prizren garrison and is therefore, porous.


Military statistics

The chief of the Yugoslav Army Pristina corps talked of ``a charge across Mt. Prokletija,'' and a constant checking of the ``Berlin wall'' (as they have dubbed the border). Their data speak of a large number of incidents on the YugoslavAlbanian border.

In 1991, there were 1,664 illegal crossings on the part of the border controlled by the Pristina corps. There were 188 in 1992 and 641 in 1993. By May 31, 1994, the number of recorded illegal crossings stood at 343. All together, this adds up to 2,841 illegal crossings.

In 1992, there were 108 border incidents, in 1993 another 68, while the first five months of this year saw 30 border incidents.

In the 19911994 period, 70 border stones were destroyed or damaged.

In the 19911994 period, the Albanian side opened fire on Yugoslav border patrols nine times. In the last three years, 40 persons have been killed while crossing the border illegally, and 15 wounded.

Shkoder Instead of Trieste

Tirana, June (Montenafax, specially for VREME)

Even after the communist authorities in Albania and Yugoslavia had been toppled, and important political changes had taken place, relations between Tirana and Belgrade did not really take off. Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic's visit to Tirana last year was the only official attempt at ``defrosting'' relations, but without significant results.

AlbanianYugoslav relations have lately become topical because of the situation on the AlbanianMontenegrin border. Some armed border incidents have been ignored because of the great need of Albania's Western neighbors for petroleum and petroleum products. This problem took on such proportions, that the Albanian Government was forced to deal with the matter, albeit under pressure from the West, and undertake more energetic measures in implementing UN sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro. The Albanian Government decided to step up vigilance on the borders and gave the police wide competencies in doing their duty. An Albanian daily wrote that Muslim Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic had protested personally with Albanian President Sali Berisha because ``Albania was indirectly aiding the aggression against BH,'' and enabling Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic's army to purchase large quantities of oil and oil derivatives. In the past few months, the police in Shkoder have been very busy because of the fuel smuggling.

The latest events on the Bozaj border crossing seem to have disturbed the public in Serbia and Montenegro. Local papers reported that Albania had closed this crossing from June 37, but the Albanian Ministry of the Interior said that it had never been closed. The matter pertained to stepped up police control of the traffic, because the fuel smuggling had gotten out of hand. Albanian citizens who had crossed the border by car, said that Montenegrin customs did not have a single criteria with regard to fuel smugglers. They fined Albanians 100 DEM for extra fuel, but let Yugoslav citizens off.

If YugoslavAlbanian relations are viewed through a greater cooperation between Shkoder and the ``neighboring'' municipalities of Ulcinj and Podgorica, many nice things can be said. Official municipal delegations have exchanged visits. There was talk of promoting cooperation. In the field of sports there have been several boxing matches, tabletennis events, etc. Shkoder has become for Montenegro what Trieste was once for Yugoslavia, a place to go shopping. Montenegrins believe that Albania will agree to open a second border crossing with Montenegro, at Sukobin, near Ulcinj, so that the flow of people and goods will increase.

The lifting of the gate at the Bozaj border crossing between Montenegro and Albania has given Montenegrins hope. Lazar Jankovic, president of the Yugoslav commission for looking into border incidents told journalists that after several days of negotiations, the two state commissions had decided to annul the four day (June 37) traffic blockade. During those days no vehicles crossed the border, even though the regular Podgorica Shkoder bus line had operated a few days ago, with fares costing only seven dinars.


The YugoslavAlbanian border is 309.7 kilometers long; the length of the land border is 243.7 kilometrs, there are 28 kilometers of river border and 38 kilometers of lake border. The highest Yugoslav moutain top is on the AlbanianYugoslav border (Djeravica)2,656 meters on Mt. Prokletija.

Population in Albania: in 1971 the population count stood at 2,188,000 (the annual population growth is 3%, estimates for 1991 put the figure at 3,285,000).

Capital: Tirana (243,000), other big cities are Duress (85,000), Elbasan (84,000), Valona, Shkoder, Korcha.

National structure: 82% of the population are Albanians, followed by Serbs, Romanians, Greeks. Tribes: Malisor, Mirdit, Dukagin, Mati.

Religion: Muslims 70%, Orthodox 20% and Catholics 10%.


During World War One, the Serbian Army captured Kosovo and Prizren and annexed them to Serbia. The Montenegrin Army captured a part of Kosovo and Metohija (Pec and Djakovica) and annexed them to Montenegro.

Albania's borders were determined after the Balkan Wars, at the London conference in 1912. They haven't changed to the present day. Serbian troops did not depart from the region of Albania immediately. After the British ultimatum they withrew during 1913 and 1914, but later returned. In September 1913 two international demarcation commissions arrived in Albania: one dealt with the SerbianMontenegrin border, the other with the border with Greece. The two commissions drew the borders which were then ratified through protocols by all the great powers.

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