June 06, 2016

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Protesters in the Albanian capital scuffled with police Monday ahead of a visit by Greece’s foreign minister, as members of Cham community, which was expelled from northwestern Greece during World War II after Athens claimed they had collaborated with the Nazis, demanded their property back.

A few hundred supporters of the small Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, which represents the Cham community, tried block the entrance of the Foreign Ministry in Tirana as Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias was to arrive. Kotzias delayed his arrival briefly and his Albanian host, Ditmir Bushati, came out to meet PDIU leader Shpetim Idrizi to clear the road.

Four issues have soured bilateral ties between the two neighbors: the Chams’ claims on their confiscated property; the technical state of war still in place since then-fascist Italy attacked Greece through Albania in 1940; an unresolved maritime dispute and Greek claims of discrimination against the ethnic Greek minority in Albania.

Hundreds of thousands of Albanians poured to Greece after the communist regime fell in 1990. Both ministers said dialogue will be the best way to resolve any disputes, insisting there is no territorial claim from both sides. They have agreed to create a joint mechanism that will convene periodically and also a road map for how to resolve the issues.

“Good neighborliness and the respect of the neighbor’s territorial integrity dominate above everything,” said Bushati at a news conference, adding that on the Cham issue, Tirana’s stand was “on the respect of the fundamental freedom and rights of that population.”

“We should resolve the existing problems and look forward to big future projects,” said Kotzias. Bushati reiterated Monday that Greece was an important neighbor. “Relations with Greece are strategic ones and with a high potential that we should exploit to the best,” he said.

Kotzias, the Greek minister, said at the news conference Monday that Athens believed a 1987 government statement and the 1996 bilateral friendship treaty mean the two countries were not in war now. “Albania’s integration into NATO and its EU prospects makes us not only friends but partners too,” he said.

Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.