Athens-Tirana ties put to test after killing of ethnic Greek man

Athens-Tirana ties put to test after killing of ethnic Greek man

The killing of an ethnic Greek by police under unclear circumstances in Albania on Sunday has cast a dark shadow over relations between Tirana and Athens, threatening a rupture reminiscent of the 90s when bilateral relations were at their lowest ebb.

In the wake of the incident that led to the shooting of 35-year-old Konstantinos Katsifas in the village of Bularat (Vouliarates) near the Greek border, Athens Monday summoned Albanian Ambassador Dashnor Dervishi, while the Foreign Ministry lodged a demarche with Albanian authorities.

Earlier, Katsifas and other members of the Greek community in Bularat raised a Greek flag – on the occasion of the October 28 national holiday marking Greece’s entry into World War II – at a cemetery for Greek soldiers. However, sources at the Greek Police (ELAS) said there was no evidence, nor witness accounts, linking Katsifas’s death to that.

Some reports said Katsifas, who was dressed in army fatigues, fired a Kalashnikov assault rifle into the air and then opened fire at an Albanian police patrol car. There followed a chase, special forces and helicopters were dispatched, and Katsifas was killed in an exchange of fire. Eight bullet casings were said to have been found next to his body along with a bag of around 100 rounds of ammunition, a military-style knife and noose.

The Omonoia organization representing the Greek minority said the killing could have been averted, describing it as “a cold-blooded murder,” while accusing Tirana of cultivating a “a psychological climate of violence” against the Greek community.

On the other hand, Albanian media reports have described Katsifas as a “Greek extremist” who was doing the bidding of Greek nationalist circles in Greece out to harm Albania, and linked him to the extreme-right Golden Dawn party.

However, tensions were fueled by a tweet by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama that described the victim as “a crazy person” in response to the Greek Foreign Ministry which called the killing “unacceptable.” 

“Dear neighbors! Instead of describing as unacceptable the incident involving the loss of life of a crazy person who opened fire at our police, who were just doing their job, let us thank God that no innocent person was lost due to extremist madness,” Rama tweeted.

Meanwhile, the Panepirotic Federation of America issued a statement strongly condemning the “senseless killing,” and called for an “internationally supervised investigation” to determine how Katsifas died.

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