21 October, 2004
TIRANA 21/10/2004 (ANA/S.Tzimas)
President of the Hellenic Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos, as part of his current visit to Albania, laid a wreath at a cemetery on Wednesday, in remembrance of Greek soldiers who died during the Italian invasion of 1940-41.
Stephanopoulos went on to visit a number of villages in Albania inhabited by ethnic Greeks, including Vouliarates, where a cemetery funded by the Greek Ministry of Defense was erected in 1999. The cemetery is the final resting place of over 250 Greek soldiers whose graves were previously scattered around the mountains of Gjirokaster (Argirokastro).
Greeted by crowds of ethnic Greeks and representatives of local organizations, Stephanopoulos laid a wreath, telling the crowd that he had taken his time in visiting them, but he believed that it was a case of "better late than never."
Stephanopoulos also stopped at the Kleisoura Pass, site of one of the fiercest battles of the Italian Campaign where he was greeted by the Archbishop of Tirana and all Albania, Anastasios. The two men visited the building site of a monastery and Greek Orthodox Church which will hold the bones of hundreds of Greek soldiers who died during the war.
Stephanopoulos also visited the village of Droviani, from where his mother's side of the family is originally from.
End of visit: President of the Hellenic Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos described his tour of the towns and villages of Greeks in Albania as a "pilgrimage to the Greeks of Northern Epirus," during a speech he gave on Wednesday evening in Dervitsani.
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of Greeks from the greater region, Stephanopoulos called on Albania's leadership to adhere to European principles and treaties regarding minorities towards the Greeks of Albania.
"For Albania to approach the European Union, it will have to implement the international treaties regarding minorities from A to Z," he said. Stephanopoulos also explained that Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Prime Minister Fatos Nano promised to discontinue labeling certain areas as minority areas.
The Greek president also asked that the property of Greeks confiscated under Enver Hodja's regime be returned.
Stephanopoulos also emphasized that while Greece no longer has any territorial demands on Albania following the signing of the Helsinki Treaty in 1976, it is obliged to protect "its children" wherever they may be.
He also made special mention to the work of Archbishop of Tirana and all Albania Anastasios, present at the evening's event, saying that "if there's one person that has benefited Albania, that's Anastasios."
Stephanopoulos left for Athens late Wednesday evening, having completed his three-day state visit in Albania.
Source: Athens News Agency