A mid-January 1998 to mid-February 1998 uprising in Shkoder against the Socialist government [ALB33517.E]

On 22 February 1998 a group of 12-15 armed men, described in several sources as an organized criminal gang, attacked the police headquarters in Shkoder (AFP 23 Feb. 1998; AHC 1998, 4; Enter 23 Feb. 1998a). After an hour-long gun battle with police the attackers took control of the police station, capturing weapons and freeing an estimated 35 to 60 prisoners (AFP 23 Feb. 1998; AHC 1998, 4; Enter 23 Feb 1998e; ibid. 23 Feb. 1998a). The masked gunmen, who by then numbered about 100, briefly took control of the town and set fire to a number of public buildings including the court building, City Hall, prosecutor's office, police station and library (AFP 23 Feb. 1998; AHC 1998, 4; Enter 23 Feb 1998e; ibid. 23 Feb. 1998a; ibid. 23 Feb. 1998b). The gunmen also attacked the town bank and sealed off both sides of the bridge to Shkoder, preventing special forces of the Interior Ministry from entering the city to restore order (AFP 23 Feb. 1998; AHC 1998, 4; Enter 23 Feb. 1998a; ibid. 23 Feb. 1998b). The rampage lasted about 24 hours, ending only when hundreds of Albanian riot police, backed by helicopters, took control of the town (AFP 23 Feb. 1998; ibid. 24 Feb. 1998; ibid. 25 Feb. 1998).

Following the attack the Socialist Party government accused the Shkoder branch Democratic Party (PD) of involvement in the attack, stating that the PD was "leading ... the clan of Berisha [and] supporting the criminal gangs politically" (Enter 23 Feb. 1998c). The Interior Minister also implicated unnamed "foreign secret services" and criminals from Montenegro, who he claimed were attempting to destabilize Albania (ibid. 23 Feb. 1998a). The government also linked the attack to an incident one month earlier in which 20 rebel policemen took the district governor hostage and occupied the town hall, ending their occupation and releasing the governor only after he agreed to resign (ibid. 28 Feb. 1998c; AFP 21 Jan. 1998; The Times 23 Jan. 1998). The opposition parties accused the government of directly provoking the events in Shkoder and of transforming Shkoder into a smuggling centre for drugs, arms and other contraband (Enter 23 Feb. 1998d; Gazeta Albania 24 Feb. 1998a). They also alleged that former communist secret police (sigurimi) officers were involved in the attack (ibid.).

Two reports state that the situation in Shkoder was exacerbated by the town's outspoken and controversial police director, Mithat Havjari, who was the subject of popular protests several weeks earlier (Gazeta Albania 24 Feb. 1998b; ibid. 24 Feb. 1998c). Following the attack, Havjari and about 150 policemen were dismissed for "lack of vigilance and desertion" (AFP 25 Feb. 1998; Enter 23 Feb 1998a; Gazeta Albania 24 Feb. 1998c). However, according to Shkoder prefect (Socialist) Ali Lacaj, the Shkoder incident was not a "popular revolt" but the "result of increased anxiety among smugglers, who have seen their activity plunge following the closure of the border with Yugoslavia" (AFP 24 Feb. 1998; Gazeta Albania 24 Feb. 1998b).

Situated in the northwest corner of Albania, the Shkoder region is heavily dependent on trade with neighbouring Montenegro (AFP 24 Feb. 1998). The region is also a bastion of the Democratic Party, a fierce rival of the ruling Socialist government (ibid. 23 Feb. 1998).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 25 February 1998. "Albanian Police Allowed to Shoot on Sight." (NEXIS)

_____. 24 February 1998. Briseida Mema. "Security Tightened in Albanian Town After Night of Shooting." (NEXIS)

_____. 23 February 1998. "Riot Police Arrive in Violence-Torn Albanian Town." (NEXIS)

_____. 21 January 1998. "Albanian Rebel Police Occupy Administrative HQ." (NEXIS)

Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC). 1998. Report on the Activities of the Albanian Helsinki Committee (January-March 1998). Tirana: Albanian Helsinki Committee.

Enter News Agency. 23 February 1998a. "Riots in Shkodra, the City Out of Control of Governmental Forces." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

_____. 23 February 1998b. "Information on the Situation in Shkoder." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

_____. 23 February 1998c. "Socialists: The Shkodra Events are Political." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

_____. 23 February 1998d. "Provocative on the Shkodra Events." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

_____. 23 February 1998e. "The Meeting of the National Security Committee on the Situation in Shkoder." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

Gazeta Albania. 24 February 1998a. "Tension in Shkodra: Several State Buildings in Flames, While Banks Robbed; Shkodra Burned Down by Former Communist Political Policemen Returned in Secret Police." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

_____. 24 February 1998b. "Local Authority Blames Government for Situation Created in Shkodra." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo.edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

_____. 24 February 1998c. "Shkoder Police Chief Named." http://listserv.acsu.buffalo. edu/ [Accessed 21 Jan. 2000]

The Times [London]. 23 January 1998. Tom Walker. "Belgrade Police Take Kosovo's Rebel Stronghold." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases.


World News Connection (WNC).

One oral source.

Internet sites including:


Albania Online.

Albanian Daily News.

Albanian Helsinki Forum.

Albanian Human Rights and Documentation Centre.

Albanian Human Rights Group.

Albanian Press Watch (APW).

Albanian Resource Centre.

Albanian Telegraphic Agency (ATA).

Amnesty International.

British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG).

Centre for Civil Society International (CCSI).

ENTER News Agency.

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF-HR).

International League for Human Rights (ILHR).

Open Media Research Institute (OMRI).

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Slavic Research Centre.