Nikos Karanikos

Since the collapse of "existing socialism," Greece acquired the unenviable record of becoming the destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of illegal Albanian immigrants.

Currently, it is estimated that Greece is host to a minimum 500,000 permanent Albanian illegal aliens and another 200,000, who come and go across the border according to whim.

As a group, Albanians attract little public sympathy and are widely considered as harboring hardened criminals, who decisively contribute to rising crime in Greece.

While the law enforcement problems linked to the Albanian mafia are hardly unimportant, the raucous raised by human rights professionals, and the generally meek disposition of the Simitis government on the enormous problem of illegal immigration, have both contributed to obscuring another, generally underestimated, threat connected to the presence of half a million Albanians in Greece: potential "ethnic" demands and armed violence of the kind presently disintegrating FYR Macedonia.

Reports in the recent Greek press, in fact, spoke of Greek intelligence "keeping an eye" on a group of "retired" Kosovo Liberation Army thugs, who apparently decided to move south once Kosovo was "liberated" with the help of NATO bombs.

The kindergarten "foreign policy" adopted by Mr. Simitis and Mr. Papandreou towards Albania, an entity totally bereft of the attributes of a functioning state, have encouraged the Albanian radical gunmen, who foment the current wave of armed violence in the Balkans, to extend irredentist demands against this country as well.

In fact, the so-called Tsameria "issue," which the Albanian "government" had repeatedly the gall to table in talks with Mr. Simitis, comprises the focus of a potential, low-level, armed Albanian threat against Greece.

With maps of "Great Albania," extending well into the northwest parts of Greece, already in circulation -- and apparently treated with silent 'understanding' by some Western analysts --  this underestimated threat must be urgently addressed.

The political experience of FYR Macedonia with armed Albanian intrusions is an example hardly encouraging to Greece.

The administration of president Trajkovski is under increasing Western pressure to negotiate with its Albanian element under attack from Albanian "liberation fighters" intruding from Kosovo, where KFOR remains an uncomfortable, and mostly inactive, observer of the killing mess.

Mr. Simitis, while publicly condemning the Albanian radicals, is hopelessly motionless on the broader security threat of Albanian irredentism; he is also apparently incapable of conceiving the potential repercussions upon Greece of the evolving Western practice of peripheral "velvet glove" diplomacy vis-à-vis armed thugs.

Even worse, the para-diplomacy being conducted by some of Mr. Papandreou's closest advisers (who often travel quietly across the water for 'consultations' outside the channels of Greece's formal foreign policy) is sending the wrong signals to the "self-determination" crowd.

The disconnection of the Simitis-Papandreou narrow kitchen cabinet from hard realities is indeed remarkable as it is dangerous.

Both Mr. Simitis and Mr. Papandreou regularly deliver lectures on a policy of "inclusion" that would supposedly correct the threat of murderous ethnic violence promoted by the Kosovo-based Albanian thugs.

Both men appear to totally disregard the complex problems the presence of the illegal Albanian element has cultivated in this country.

And both men appear incapable of saying "no" to increasingly unacceptable demands placed upon Greek sovereignty and security by pressures from Greece's "friends and allies" regarding the "humane" treatment of the illegal immigrant wave.

Only last week, the entire force of a police station near Athens was ordered to line up so that an illegal Albanian, claiming police abuse, could inspect the line-up of officers and point to the man who had allegedly mistreated him in a holding cell.

This unprecedented action, which insulted and humiliated the entire Greek police, was carried out by order from the highest echelons triggering a parliamentary question from the government's own benches.

Against the backdrop of this incident (and the obvious attitude that produced it,) the question that immediately arises is what would happen if, tomorrow, Mr. Simitis faces an armed challenge from KLA-sponsored gunmen "swimming in the sea" of the illegal Albanian element.

The tendency of the increasingly bankrupt Simitis "modernizers," wrapped in their denial syndrome of an imaginary "powerful" Greece, is to dismiss such potentialities as "fantastic."

Unfortunately for the rest of the country, these potentialities are very real and, in light of the chaotic and regressive Western "strategy" in the Balkans, are developing into a serious threat.

It is imperative, therefore, that Albanians, whether illegally in Greece, or lobbing mortars into FYR Macedonia, or pushing narcotics and weapons from their Kosovo bases, get an unmistakable message from this side of the border-- and soon.

"Discreet surveillance" of any suspected KLA-connected elements in Greece should be immediately translated into arrests and prosecutions on criminal charges that would ensure the Albanian "liberation militants" are put out of circulation for the longest time possible.

Greek intelligence should assume a much more aggressive stance towards the ebb and flow of Albanian illegals and develop interdiction tactics with the aim of neutralizing potentially troublesome Albanian "freedom fighters" before they reach their destinations inside Greece.

Greece must also begin treating Albania the way Albania deserves to be treated.

Greek economic and military aid to Tirana should be drastically cut and the Albanian "government" warned that any irregular, cross-border activity will be treated as a hostile act.

But, most importantly, Greece must begin doing something much more drastic about the multitudes of Albanian illegals entrenched on its soil already -- because when an Albanian "minority" begins to engage in a "self-determination struggle," with the same support from the West that led to Kosovo and is now helping disband FYR Macedonia, it will be too late.