The International Commission on Missing Persons, ICMP announced on Thursday in Tirana that it has successfully identified two people who disappeared under Albania’s Communist regime.
“Today I am pleased to announce that ICMP early this week submitted two DNA match reports at the Institute of Forensic Medicine of the Republic of Albania,” Matthew Holliday, head of the Western Balkans Programme at the ICMP, told journalists.
But further progress has been impeded because prosecutors have not agreed to allow digging at Dajti near Tirana and at another known grave site in Ballshi in southern Albania.
“We are still waiting for the prosecutors in Fieri and Tirana to issue orders for excavation in the graveyards of Dajti and Ballsh,” Holliday said.
His concerns were echoed by Monica Bilayte, head of the political, economic and information section at the European Union delegation to Albania, whose office financed the ICMP project.
“It is absolutely critical that the responsible prosecutors issue court orders to excavate the sites of Dajti and Ballsh, with line ministries and municipalities doing their share in this as well,” Bilayte said.
The prosecutors have given no reasons for their inaction, and the prosecutor’s offices of Tirana and Fieri did not immediately respond to BIRN’s requests for comments.
The ICMP project started nearly two years ago and is expected to end in December, but Holliday said he has already requested an extension, hoping that more victims of the Communist regime will be identified.
However, the complex process requires collaboration between various state bodies, from prosecutors who should issue excavation orders to the Interior Ministry, where archival information about possible grave sites can be found, and local authorities that should help ICMP experts with excavations.
Deputy Interior Minister Rovena Voda sought to emphasise that the government has the political will to address the issue, but was unable to answer whether or not the state knows where Communist-era graves are situated.
“I do not have deep knowledge of the archives of the state,” Voda said.
Back in 2010, family members of some of those who disappeared under Albania’s Communist regime conducted private research at a known unmarked graveyard at Mount Dajti. Their excavations found the remains of 13 people.
Following the publication of the story by BIRN, prosecutors opened an investigation into the case but abandoned the attempt about ten months later without identifying the victims.
The two people identified by the ICMP were among the 13 whose remains were originally found in the private search nine years ago.
“ICMP stands ready to continue to assist the Albanian authorities in identifying as many missing people from the Communist era as possible,” Holliday said on Thursday.
However, he added, the ICMP needs a court order before it can conduct exhumations.
“What we are talking about is potential evidence that can be used in criminal investigations. This needs to be done in collaboration with authorities, in collaboration with prosecutors,” he said.
About 6,000 Albanians are thought to have been killed under the Communist regime that ruled the country from 1945 to 1992.