Athens (AFP) – Greece’s foreign ministry on Monday said excavation had begun in Albania in search of Greek soldiers killed fighting fascist Italy in World War II, one of the country’s proudest military moments.
“A historic moment, as the first disinterment of the remains of two Greek soldiers is taking place,” the ministry said in a tweet.
“Work began today, in the presence of a mixed Greek-Albanian committee, in an emotional atmosphere,” it added.
The 1940-41 campaign in Albania, in which a fascist Italian attack was repulsed against all odds, is commemorated annually in Greece and was the first Allied success against an Axis power.
According to Greek state agency ANA, between 6,000 and 8,000 Greek soldiers are believed to rest in makeshift graves in southern Albania.
The Albanian defence ministry said the work was underway near the town of Dragot. According to local media, a few inhabitants gathered to protest against the excavation.
Greece has been asking for the operation for decades. The details were agreed in November, though an original agreement had been concluded in 2009.
Under the terms of the agreement, the bodies of Greek soldiers are to be identified and reburied in Greek military cemeteries in Albania’s Bularat and Kelcyre, where hundreds of other Greek fallen lie.
Albania and Italy had reached a similar agreement to repatriate the remains of more than 6,000 Italian soldiers.
But Greece, which has an ethnic Greek minority living in southern Albania, and had in the past sought to annex the region, has always insisted that its fallen remain in the neighbouring state.
The treatment of the Greek minority in Albania is a recurring source of tension between the two states.