by Aggelos Skordas
The government of Albania took the first step towards the implementation of the agreement reached between Athens and Tirana regarding the identification, exhumation, and burial of the bones of Greek soldiers who fell on Albanian soil during the Greek-Italian war of 1940 – 1941. The decision, according to Albanian pro-government newspapers “Shqiptarja” and “SOT”, was taken by Edi Rama’s administration on December 13 and was published on its official website under the title: “Decision on the Implementation of the Cooperation Agreement between the Government of the Albanian Republic and the Government of the Hellenic Republic for the search, exhumation, identification and burial of Greek soldiers who fell to Albania during the Greek-Italian War of 1940-41 and the construction of cemeteries for them in the territory of Albania”.
According to “Shqiptarja” newspaper, Rama’s government is showing some signs of resolving disputes with Greece with a decision to build new cemeteries for the Greek soldiers who had fallen into the Greek-Italian war. This is one of the main terms that the Greek government has set out in talks with the Albanian side. The decision was taken at the recent meeting of Rama’s government on December 13, but it was only announced three days later. As it turns out, the newspaper continues, the talks held in Crete between Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati were not as fruitless as it was initially believed. Although, the meeting apparently produced an Agreement, and the decision of the Albanian government was to apply only its first point. The Albanian government is heading for fresh bilateral talks to be held in Korce on January 20 with good will having this decision, the newspaper comments.
In Albania, the newspaper reports, there are two cemeteries of Greek soldiers: The first is located in Kleisoura while the second is located in the village Vouliarates of Deropolis, Argyrokastro. The recent decision does not specify the number of cemeteries to be erected, nor does it specify their locations, although it implies they will be more than one in more than one regions of Albania. The cemetery located in Vouliarates (only six kilometers from Kakavia’s frontier outpost) is actually the only Greek military cemetery in Albania with recognized victims, preserved remarkably by the locals. Two important events took place in the village during the Greco-Italian War. The first is the murderous battle that took place with the retreating Italians at the top of the nearby height, on December 1, 1940, during which the Greek Army lost 15 men, all of them from the North Peloponnese regions of Corinthia and Achaea. The second is that for more than three months Greek Army’s combat hospital – surgery “S1”, with capacity of some 300 beds, was located there. It provided care to wounded Greek servicemen who were being transferred there from various parts of the front. The villagers provided adequate food for the wounded along with other services, including maintenance work of the roads for the safer and faster transfer of those wounded in action.
On his behalf, Kotzias hailed the Albanian government’s decision to settle the issue of establishing a cemetery for Greek soldiers killed in action on the Albanian mountains during World War II, characterising it as a huge step of trust between the two countries. The decision proved that diplomacy can achieve much more than “cries without context”, Kotzias said. Welcoming the Albanian announcement of a law regulating issues concerning the cemeteries of Greek soldiers and officers that fell fighting the Axis forces during World War II, Kotzias added that it is a very positive step, which comes after the reconstruction of the church of Agios Athanassios of Himara, that was destroyed last year, and is financed by the Albanian government.