Himara killing: Albanian held

The man wanted for allegedly murdering an ethnic Greek in the Albanian town of Himara turned himself in to police yesterday amid claims that the victim was targeted because he was speaking Greek. The suspect, named as Ilir Mukaj, was the eighth person to be remanded in custody for allegedly deliberately running over and killing 35-year-old Aristotelis Goumas on Thursday. Mukaj’s family insists that Goumas’s death had nothing to do with his ethnicity but resulted from an argument that led to the road accident. However, sources revealed that the day before Goumas was killed, three ethnic Greeks had filed official complaints with police in Himara after they allegedly received threats because they were speaking Greek. Himara once had a strong ethnic Greek presence. It is estimated that about 15,000 people of Greek origin lived there following World War II but this number has dwindled to about 3,000 now, partly as the result of policies promoted by the regime of the late longtime leader Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985. It is thought that there is a total of 15,000 ethnic Greeks now living in the whole of the neighboring country. Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha called Goumas’s killing a «barbarous act» and said that «it is very harsh for someone to be speaking the language they choose and to suffer such a thing.» Other politicians and the media in Albania sought to play down the ethnic angle to the killing, suggesting instead that it was part of the rise in crime that has been sweeping the country. Sources said that there was calm in Himara yesterday, although civil servants from minority groups staged a two-hour work stoppage in protest at Goumas’s killing.