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BIRN: Greek minorities in Himara are being forced to sell land at low prices to strategic investors

BIRN: Greek minorities in Himara are being forced to sell land at low prices to

Greece on Wednesday warned a meeting of the EU's Council of Permanent Representatives, COREPER, that it is ready to block Albania's EU membership talks if it does not respect the rights of the imprisoned ethnic Greek mayor of Himara, Fredi Beleri.

In the written statement, which BIRN has seen, Greece said it "expects Albania to take concrete and immediate measures for the assumption of office by Beleri and to respect his right to a fair trial and presumption of innocence."

"Otherwise, it will not be able to agree to the next stages in the membership process, including the adoption of the Outstanding Standards Assessment Report," the statement added.

Beleri - Beleris in Greek - was arrested by Albanian authorities two days before the May 14 local elections on charges of vote-buying. Since then he has been behind bars and has been denied the right to assume the office of mayor in Himara, despite having been elected as such.

His supporters say he is collateral damage in a fight between the authorities and the country's Greek minority over the much-coveted land of Himara. Prosecutors say the property issues have nothing to do with the case against Beler.

BIRN, in an earlier investigation, reported that members of the country's Greek minority say they are being forced to sell their land at low prices to strategic investors as part of a program to develop the area's tourism potential.

Under communist rule, all property in Albania was transferred to the state. Since then, both Albanians and members of ethnic minority communities have been trying to regain ownership of their nationalized property.

Albania says that the issue is very complex. Where Greeks see discrimination, Albanian authorities say the law is being applied equally to all – albeit slowly.

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