Albania seizes 613 kilos of Colombia cocaine, holds two

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian police seized 613 kilos of cocaine hidden in a container of bananas from Colombia on Wednesday, they said, hailing it as the Balkan nation’s biggest haul of the drug ever and as a triumph for its law enforcement efforts.

Albania is under heavy Western pressure to step up its fight against drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime as part of its bid to join the European Union.

Sitting at the crossroads between eastern and western Europe, Albania remains a significant source country for marijuana, as well as a transit route for cocaine and heroin for European markets, the U.S. State Department has said.

National police chief Ardi Veliu said the cocaine shipment, with a market value of 180 million euros ($219.96 million), had arrived at the port of Durres via Italy and Malta 10 days ago and had been closely watched by law enforcement bodies.

“The Albanian authorities are still investigating with their foreign partners to discover all the links and persons involved in this criminal activity,” Veliu told reporters.

Police said they had detained two suspects, both aged 25, and were hunting a third man. One of the detained people was the driver of a truck which had transported a double-floor container that concealed 528 numbered packages to a warehouse.

“The state police is determined to strike with the power of the law at every criminal activity to build a calmer and safer Albania,” they said in a statement.

($1 = 0.8183 euros)

Reporting By Benet Koleka, Editing by Gareth Jones