US embassy cable - 06TIRANA662

EXHUMATION OF WW II SOLDIERS SPOTLIGHTS ALBANIAN-GREEK TENSIONS

Identifier: 06TIRANA662
Wikileaks: View 06TIRANA662 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tirana
Created: 2006-06-21 06:33:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PGOV PINR AL GR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXYZ0002
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTI #0662/01 1720633
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 210633Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY TIRANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4451
INFO RUEHTH/AMEMBASSY ATHENS 2935
RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE 2732
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 0676
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 5302
RUEHVJ/AMEMBASSY SARAJEVO 0450
RUEHSQ/AMEMBASSY SKOPJE 4128
RUEHVI/AMEMBASSY VIENNA 2784
RUEHVB/AMEMBASSY ZAGREB 2953
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 3278
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 2172
RUEHPS/USOFFICE PRISTINA 3436
C O N F I D E N T I A L TIRANA 000662 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/SCE (MBENEDICT) 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/15/2016 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PINR, AL, GR 
SUBJECT: EXHUMATION OF WW II SOLDIERS SPOTLIGHTS 
ALBANIAN-GREEK TENSIONS 
 
REF: TIRANA 476 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Marcie B. Ries 
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  Recent exhumations of Greek soldiers killed 
in Albania during WW II and the construction of mausoleums 
here for their re-interrment have sparked considerable 
controversy and reportedly the cancellation of the Greek 
Defense Minister's visit to Albania. The exhumations 
generated controversy when allegations surfaced that some of 
the remains were of Albanian villagers.  The situation was 
inflamed further when a local Orthodox priest initially 
refused police access into the church where the remains were 
being temporarily stored.  Preliminary forensic reports 
showed that the some of the remains were of women and 
children. The government of Albania has generally been 
cautious in its official statements, casting the issue as a 
dispute between private entities.  However, when the forensic 
results are released to the public in one week, the flames 
may be fanned again. END SUMMARY. 
 
CANCELLATION OF VISIT SPARKS CONTROVERSY 
---------------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) Rasim Hasanaj, Head of the Albanian Cults Committee, 
told us on May 10 that Greece's Defense Minister had canceled 
a long-planned visit to Albania, citing the failure of the 
GoA and Greece to reach a bilateral agreement regarding the 
exhumation and reburial of Greek soldiers. An estimated 8,000 
Greek soldier were killed in Albania fighting Italians and 
Germans during WW II.  Local media then began reporting on 
ongoing construction of mausoleums in Albania for the Greek 
soldiers and exhumations of purported graves of those 
soldiers. 
 
3.  (C) Hasanaj said that plans for the construction of 
mausoleums to house the remains of Greek soldiers have been 
on-again, off-again since the early 1990s. According to 
Albanian Defense Minister Mediu, Greece is seeking 
construction of three mausoleums, one each in the regions of 
Korca, Gjirokaster, and Permet -- all of which share a border 
with Greece. The position of the GoA is that there should be 
two, in part to tamp down right-wing criticism that by 
accepting mausoleums in all three cities the government is 
encouraging the perpetuation of Greek claims to "Northern 
Epirus." 
 
GREEK GOVERNMENT FUNDED MAUSOLEUM CONSTRUCTION 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
4. (C) Father Andon Merdani, director of external relations 
for the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, said that, 
despite the lack of a formal agreement, construction of one 
mausoleum, capable of taking in 630 new gravesites, was 
completed last year on the grounds of an Orthodox monastery 
in Permet.  A second similar mausoleum is currently under 
construction in Korca. Merdani confirmed that the 
construction of the mausoleums was funded by the Greek 
government and was carried out under the direction of the 
Albanian Orthodox church. 
 
5.  (C)  Media reports have alleged that the Orthodox church 
did not obtain the necessary permits for either the 
construction of the mausoleums or for the exhumation and 
reburial of human remains. Merdani said that the Orthodox 
church had obtained an initial permit for the construction of 
a church on the site, but was notably silent on the issue of 
a construction permit for the actual mausoleum and 
authorization for the exhumations. (Note:  Under Albanian 
law, a grave site may be disturbed only with authorization 
from the Prosecutor's office and with a court order.  End 
note). 
 
REMAINS INCLUDE WOMEN AND CHILDREN 
---------------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) Dr. Sokrat Meksi, head of Forensic Medicine at 
 
Mother Theresa Hospital in Tirana, told us that villagers had 
lodged a formal complaint with police in Permet alleging that 
the graves of their relatives, including women and children, 
had been violated.  The Permet regional prosecutor's office 
has opened a formal criminal investigation and police 
investigators attempted to enter an Orthodox church in the 
village of Kutale where the recently exhumed remains were 
being stored, awaiting reburial. Media reported that the 
local priest denied access to the police and enlisted the 
help of the Greek Consul in Gjirokaster, who called on 
authorities not to search the church. 
 
7.  (SBU)  Merdani said that on June 7 Archbishop Yannulatos 
Anastasios (head of the Orthodox church in Albania, but a 
Greek national) visited Greek PM Karamanlis in Athens and 
that the graves were discussed. The following day, the church 
rescinded its opposition and gave access to the church.  A 
team of investigators began a forensic analysis of the 69 
sets of remains.  The Albanian press widely reported a Greek 
government statement that the exhumations were a private 
initiative being carried out by the relatives of the soldiers 
and that the Greek government, and its consular service in 
Albania, had no official involvement.  This helped to calm 
emotional outbursts in the press that have surrounded the 
issue. Father Merdani told us that the exhumations were 
funded by an association established by the relatives of the 
fallen soldiers.  The GoG's statement did not, however, refer 
to GoG involvement in mausoleum funding. 
 
8. (C)  Meksi told us that the exhumations had been done in a 
slipshod manner and that many of the skeletons were not 
complete or contained more bones than anatomically correct. 
Moreover, of the 69 cadavers examined, three have been 
confirmed to be of children, four of women, and two of 
persons over the age of 60.  Meksi acknowledged that most 
were of men between the ages of 18 and 30 and showed evidence 
of having been killed in battle.  More detailed analysis is 
needed in a handful of cases.  Official results will be 
released in two weeks. 
 
OVERZEALOUS GRAVE-DIGGERS? 
-------------------------- 
 
9. (C)  Meksi said he learned that villagers had been hired 
to perform the exhumations and were paid between 50 and 100 
Euros for each skeleton exhumed. Father Merdani said that 
although most of the exhumations were performed under the 
observation of a priest, one of the gravediggers was fired 
for working after hours and stealing gold fillings and other 
valuables from the graves. 
 
 
ALBANIANS CLAIM AN AFFRONT TO THEIR SOVEREIGNTY 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
10. (SBU) Citing the failure of the Orthodox church (and its 
Greek national Archbishop) to obtain the necessary building 
permits for mausoleums, as well as the lack of official 
authorization to exhume human remains, some local political 
commentators and politicians have decried what they consider 
an intrusion into Albanian sovereignty. They claim that 
Greece has never formally recognized its border with Albania 
and still refers to southern Albania as "Northern Epirus." 
(Note: Albania and Greece have never formally ended the state 
of war that began when Italian troops invaded Greece from 
Albania in 1940.  End note.)  Commentators have also argued 
that the building of mausoleums (and schools -- see reftel) 
was an attempt to "Hellenize" the region. Some politicians 
have even called for the resignation of Archbishop 
Anastasios, claiming that he used the church as a proxy for 
carrying out Greek ambitions in Albania. 
 
11. (SBU) PM Berisha told reporters on June 1 that "The 
exhumation is unauthorized and represents a criminal act. 
There is an ongoing investigation by judicial authorities and 
police...to determine whether the remains come from Albanian 
village inhabitants or Greek soldiers."  He did not, however, 
mention the Greek Government, and has remained silent on the 
 
matter since. 
 
 
COMMENT: OFFICIAL RESTRAINT, PRIVATE RESENTMENT 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
12.  (C)  The GoA seems to recognize that this is a 
hot-button issue that could not only incite ethnic tensions 
domestically, but potentially even complicate foreign policy 
objectives, including Kosovo independence and EU accession -- 
two issues in which the support of Greece for Albanian 
positions is considered vital. In a discussion with DCM, the 
Greek DCM downplayed the dispute, stating that it did not 
involve the GoG but rather a few individuals.  Indeed, the 
GoA, and apparently the GoG as well, seem comfortable to cast 
the whole dispute as one between private parties rather than 
an issue of governmental concern -- probably a good thing 
since it indicates that neither government is looking to stir 
up nationalism for the sake of short-term political gain. 
Nevertheless, the potentially extra-legal manner of the 
exhumations and mausoleum construction, will likely 
exacerbate the long-standing mistrust many Albanians have for 
their Greek neighbors. 
RIES 

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