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17 Slain in Albanian Gun Battle

March 28, 1997| From Times Wire Services

TIRANA, Albania — At least seventeen people died in a gun battle in central Albania on Thursday, the most violent incident in two months of unrest in the former Communist state, the official ATS news agency reported.

There were differing accounts about what triggered Thursday's violence. ATS said the killings began when 16 armed people went to the village of Levan, about 50 miles south of the capital, Tirana, and assassinated the chairman of the local council of elders.

Townspeople in turn "surrounded the group and killed them all," ATS said. It gave no reason for the shooting of the chairman.

Another report indicated that the clash was caused by an argument between two families.

A 6-year-old boy also died Thursday, one day after men fired machine guns at the passenger bus in which he was riding. One man had died instantly in Wednesday's attack.

Much of southern Albania is ruled by rebels and others who have seized arms from military facilities. They blame Albanian President Sali Berisha for the collapse of popular pyramid investment schemes in which hundreds of thousands of people in the former Communist state lost their savings.

Hoping to curb the violence and banditry, parliament passed a law Thursday authorizing a limited amnesty to escaped prisoners.

The legislation grants amnesty to about 700 convicts who had three years or less to serve. Prisoners have escaped from facilities throughout the country, contributing to Albania's chaos.

Parliament, controlled by Berisha's Democratic Party of Albania, unanimously approved the amnesty, state television reported.

Berisha is to meet today with a delegation of European relief experts headed by a Dutch diplomat. They are expected to discuss Albania's aid needs and the possibility of sending a multinational force to ensure that humanitarian supplies get through.

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