Disturbances in the south blamed on government's longstanding failure to deal with property disputes inherited from the Communist era.
Riots in villages in the south of Albania are being blamed on the government's failure to sort out the issue of properties that were confiscated under the Communist regime.
"For the last 20 years, the political class has applied its own laws and transferred land to people who were not legitimate owners," said Agim Toro, head of Property with Justice, an organisation that protects the interests of families expropriated by Albania's Communist regime. "Not only is there a lack of strategy but mistakes continue to be made [by authorities] that shock the public," Toro added.
Police have been called to several protests in recent months in the village of Dukat and the town of Orikum in southern Albania, where residents have rioted with stones and thrown Molotov cocktails. Although 14 people were arrested last week after the latest clash, the villagers remain adamant in their demands.
Arion Sulo, editor of the daily newspaper MAPO, said the disturbances in Dukat and elsewhere stemmed from the failure of government agencies to resolve property rights issues.
"Italian investors now plan to build a wind farm in the area and local developers have plans for tourist resorts, while the rightful owners get nothing, which creates tension," Sulo explained.
Until the collapse of the Communist regime in 1991, all property in Albania was owned by the state, which confiscated it from its previous owners at the advent of the regime, nearly half-a-century before.
After the fall of Communism, the government moved to return these properties to their former owners but the process has often lacked transparency and was marred by corruption.
According to Property with Justice, the commission tasked with returning the property and compensating the owners, AKKP, has been blocked for years and has yet to deal with about 8,000 claims.
Even when cases find resolution, there is still no guarantee that the owners will ever get their property back, or be compensated for by the government, the group says.
The association notes that over 400 cases have been filed by former property owners in Strasbourg because the government had not returned or not compensated them for their property, even after the AKKP recognized their claims.
"The government has written to Strasbourg saying it's impossible to fulfill these claims because it risks collapse," Toro said. He added out that the problem had become serious enough for Brussels to rank property rights as "one the main problems that the country faces in its accession process with the European Union".