Spies, Parachutiss and Gunmen Engaged
from David Lee “The Press and Journal” Special Correspondent
Trieste – Sunday, December 26, 1949
DAY-TO-DAY drama, with all the ingredients of a successful film script, is taking place in the smallest of Communist States, Albania.
The plot is complete with spies, parachutists, attempted assassinations, and secret submarine bases.
Albania today has top international strategic importance, as its Moscow-controlled Government gives Russia a foothold in the Mediterranean.
Moscow is waging a hard battle to keep Albania within its sphere of influence.
Inside and outside Albania today, five different political parties and underground movements are plotting to seize control from the pro-Russian Albanian dictator General Enver Hoxha.
Although playing no open role in the plot, both Whitehall and Washington are keeping a close watch on the Albanian drama.
Britain’s attention was recently drawn to Albania when Lord Templewood (formerly Sir Samuel Hoare) said in the House of Lords that the Russians had submarine bases there.
Although the Admiralty promptly denied this, facts now available here confirm Lord Templewood’s statement.
Off the Albanian coast, on the small rocky island of Saseno, in the past a pirate’s hide-out, and once owned but neglected by Britain, Russia now has approximately thirty submarine pens.
Cut into the rock are two underground caverns where Russian submarines brought to the island by ship can be assembled.
Russia has two battalions of marines guarding the island, which has underground V-weapon sites, built by the Germans during the war, and heavy naval batteries with a range of twenty miles.
A number of Allied ships have reported observing unidentified submarines in the Adriatic recently.
Of the five movementes trying to seize power in Albania, strongest and best organized is the Communist pro-Tito party, with headquarters inside Albania, near the Yugoslav frontier, and close links with Belgrade.
Headed by Gani Krieziu, Albanian wartime partisan hero, who fought under Tito’s command, the movement aims at an independent Albania, closely tied to Tito’s Yugoslavia.
General Enver Hoxha recently flew back from Moscow after discussing the Tito threat, and asked for urgent Russian supplies for his ragged army and hard-put civilian population.
Since Hoxha’s return to the Albanian capital, a fresh purge has been launched against Albanian followers of Tito, and as an example some have been publicly hanged from Tirana lamp-posts and left hanging there all day.
But Tito’s group still attracts the mass of Albanians, with its promise of immediate supplies of consumer goods and foodstuffs, following the overthrow of the Hoxha regime.
Next largest anti-Hoxha group is the National Independent Albanian Bloc with headquarters in Rome.
The Italian Communist leader, Umberto Terracini, recently protested to the Italian Senate that this organization was parachuting anti-Communist spies, agents and saboteurs into Albania from Italy, and demanded it should stop.
Although the Italian Foreign Office denied the story, it is understood from sources close to the refugee organization that agents are being regularly slipped into Albania.
Head of this strong group is rich, thirty-five-year-old Ismail Verlaci, son of the pre-war Albanian Prime Minister.
Ismail Verlaci the other day narrowly missed assassination when leaving his Rome home.
From a black saloon car, waiting on the other side of the street, would-be killers sprayed him from sub-machine guns. But Verlaci escaped injury by throwing himself flat on his face.
Another important member of the group is Marka-Gjoni, member of one of Albania’s oldest and most important families.
Three other Rome groups, one of them run from a D.P. camp by Albanian refugees, plan to overthrow the Hoxha regime, and replace it with governments of their own.
One party is as equally anti-Zog as it is anti-Communist. Another demands the return to Albania of territory now under Yugoslav sovereignty.
All four parties outside Albania spy upon each other, and in turn are spied upon by agents of both the Tito and Hoxha regimes.
Meanwhile, 1,000,000 and more Albanians living on a soil rich in undeveloped wealth – oil and mineral ores – are the poorest and worst-off people in Europe.
Any change from the present regime will be a change for the better.
In the overall struggle between East and West, Russia cannot afford to lose her foothold in Albania. But while Tito stays alive and Albania is isolated from other Russian satellites, Albania remains the weakest link of Russia’s new Easter Europe Empire chain.