Mission Albania

October 7-20 2001

(report written by members of our expedition team after the returned from Albania)

[7 October] In Monte Negro the expedition of 9 people and 4 cars have split in two groups. Just after crossing Albanian border, Albanian police guards met us and guided us to SHKODER.

From SHKODER we called sister Michaela from Selezian monastery. In Czech Republic, we have obtained her phone number and information that she speaks Czech. She picked us up and took us to the monastery.

Police granted us two policemen to guide and protect us.

We met Mrs Toufarova, the representative of Czech embassy. She informed us about results of ongoing investigations. The information we have received from her were similar to information we knew from Czech Republic. The information was the date our friends crossed the Albanian border and suggestion that they likely headed towards mountains in northern Albania.

Sister Michaela found out the address of a taxi driver who drove our friends in August. Our group (cars Defender and Bronco) decided to meet him as soon as possible. Police guards came along.

We parked our cars some 100 meters from the taxi driver's house and our guides talked to the taxi driver's family. The taxi driver was not at home. Suddenly we saw his car passing by on the road. We followed him and succeed to catch him after some 5 km. He informed sister Michaela that he drove the missing students to the village of BOGE sometimes around 8th of August. On top of that we talked to taxi driver's passengers who remembered our friends.

On our way to BOGE we stopped in a church approximately 10 km far from KOPLIK. There we met a polish-speaking man who unfortunately had no additional information for us.

We travelled further up to the mountains to the village of BOGE. In BOGE we met two people who had seen our friends early in August. Furthermore we received doubtful information of our friends being seen in BOGE in beginning of September.

After sunset we came back to the monastery and met the second group - cars Jeep and Nissan-Patrol.

[8 October] As the first thing in the morning, we have agreed further investigation process; the first group decided to search in the area around water dams on the DRINA river.

They received contradictory information of Honza being seen alone in the region of PUKE, FUSHE-ARREZ and LEKBIBAJ. He was supposed to be seen there several times in period of 1,5 month to 1 week ago. Once he should have been seen together with one more girl, another time in a group of three. But, witnesses always remembered Honza only. Descriptions of Honza were not accurate. Therefore we doubt the above information and believe they must have seen someone else.

Second group, consisting of Bronco and Rover headed back to mountains, into the village of BOGE, where we interrupted yesterday's investigation. In each group there was an interpreter into English, which had been found by sister Michaela, and an armed police escort.

From the village of BOGE we continued to the village of THETH. The journey is quite long and tiring. It took us 3 hours. Just in first house on the way, which was a shop and restaurant, the personnel has remembered seeing missing students. Unfortunately, they were not able to specify an exact date.

Interesting was an information from a local teacher, who had met our friends and had talked to them.

Then we continued further to the village and talked to several villagers. Because it was getting late and following advise of the policeman guiding us, we decided to stay in a local hotel, which belonged to the teacher mentioned above. We were warmly welcomed and discussed the situation until late at night.

[9 October] In the morning, we, together with the teacher, went to visit small village NDERLYSAJ, where we have contacted local villagers and received proof of our missing friends being there. The proof is the address of Honza written by his own hand. We received it from a young villager who received it from Honza. He showed us a place where our friends camped. No further proofs of their stay were found there.

We drove the teacher back to THETH and continued our journey to village of NIKAJ SHALE. Villagers were not friendly to us and one of them claimed us to be spys. Another his note was that it is not difficult to disappear in the mountains. We did not found any further significant information there.

Not far from NIKAJ SHALE we met a road worker, who remembered a place close to the river, where our missing friends were camping, washing clothes, cooking etc.

Another interesting information was found in village of LOTAJ, where missing students have been seen, filling water bottles and heading up to the mountains to the village of POG.

Nobody remembered seeing them in POG. Then we have returned to SHKODER.

We decided to return back to LOTAJ next day, equipped with gear for climbing in caves, to search in the mountains in the area between LOTAJ and POG.

[10 October] In the morning our police guides brought information that was supposed to come from police sources. Our missing friends should have been seen close to a military base on the mount of TARAMUSHE above SHKODER. We decided to change our plans and Bronco and Jeep went to search in the above area. We have contacted the soldiers from the base. One of them stated that he probably have seen missing students in the beginning of September, but from far away. He emphasized that they might have easily crossed the border to Monte Negro, even not knowing that. We have searched in villages around the base and visited the border crossing. No information was found there.

On our way back we were told that in the lake of SHKODER, there were found two bodies of people executed by shot in back of the neck. We have promptly decided to go to the police station and ask for seeing those bodies. Our police guards confirmed using walkie-talkie that we are heading towards the police station. When arriving to the criminal police station we were informed that the two dead bodies were women. We decided to insist on their identification.

In the meantime, an unknown man came to us and told us that all three missing were found alive and in a good condition in a village of NENMAVRIQI. In bad English he explained that those people are two men and a woman, definitely tourists, who speak in a for him unknown language and have green backpacks. Information about them was supposed to come from a villager, who called from NIKAJ SHALE the police, the CR embassy in TIRANA and as well directly to Czech Republic. We agreed with our police guards that we will drive to the place.

Approximately in that period of time we have been asked from CR what was happening, the question based on an official note from Czech embassy saying that the missing students have been found and are transported to TIRANA by helicopter. We refused the message immediately as unconfirmed. In following 15 minutes we have received several subsequent information from CR that the above message was presented by official Czech Press Agency (ČTK) in Czech media.

On request of our police guards we have been granted two additional police guards. The guards were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and ballet-proof jackets. After discussion with the second group who had stayed in the monastery, we drove all together, including sister Michaela, to the mountains.

After few kilometres, we saw a helicopter on north-west, heading from the mountains, in direction of city of SHKODER.

On the way our guards kept contacting villagers. After some half an hour of drive we had to leave one of our cars on the way because it broke down. After an agreement with police, one armed policeman and two members of our team stayed with the car.

Finally we arrived to NIKAJ SHALE, where the police director and guards in a blue off-road car were expecting us. We were informed than missing students are not in this village but in the village of THETH, some 3 hours drive far away. It was getting dark, and we were informed that travelling in the mountains at night is extremely dangerous. We were supposed to follow the police car to THETH.

When driving by lonely houses of NDERLISAJ, we received an order to stop. Our police guards discussed something with the owner of the houses. We have contacted CR and sister Michaela the monastery. The policeman talked for a long time with his superior by satellite phone.

After some hour of waiting we were ordered to shut off the lights and keep silence. After additional quarter an hour we heard scream and saw people coming towards us. We were ordered to switch the lights on. While the strangers were coming closer we heard arming of guns. Our police guards armed their guns as well. A small group of armed men came to us and discussed something loudly. Our cars were about 50 meters far from them. One of the men, showing signs of being drunken, moved towards the cars, where the drivers were sitting in. Fortunately, when being approximately 5 meters far away from the first car he was called back to the group.

After a while the group moved back. Our guards informed us that further journey is not secure and that we have to spend the night in NDERLISAJ. We have parked cars on the garden of one of the houses and accepted invitation to come into the house. One part of our group slept in the house and another part together with the policemen in the parked cars.

[11 October] In the morning we came back to SHKODER and on the police station we were informed that the yesterday's information was a mistake and that three people found in mountains are not Czech, but other foreigners.

[12 October] The police director informed us that the missing students were seen in the beginning of September close to SHKODER. They were supposed to be checked by a policeman. We went to see the place, guided by the policeman, who was supposed to have checked them. He gave us quite an accurate description of them. We visited the place and houses in the area but found no additional information.

Because of breakdown of one car we decided to reduce the number of team members and to send one car and four people back to CR.

[13 October] First group towed the broken car to the Czech embassy in TIRANA.

Second group followed the head of regional police to the region between villages DOMEN and DRISHT close to SHKODER. We tried to check the place where police was supposed to have checked three students. We talked to the people from a nearby house, but they did not remember anything.

Furthermore we contacted the head of the forest police, who promised to help us.

In the afternoon we investigated an information from the town of LAC, where the students were supposed to be seen in the beginning of September. Unfortunately we did not confirm the information.

[14 - 15 October] First part of the rescue team leaves back to CR.

We bought a mobile phone for sister Michaela, to be able to stay in permanent contact with her.

In these days we contacted local media and TV, asking for help in the investigation. A short video spot was shot for local TV1 Shkoder. The shot was subsequently broadcasted 6 times a day in the region of SHKODER. We would like to thank them for their help without requesting any financial contribution!!!

[16-17 October] We realized that further waiting will not help anything and we decided to come back to the village of LOTAJ, where we had stopped our previous investigation. Due to technical problems with one car we spent approximately 2 hours more on the way than expected and decided to stay in the hotel in Theth overnight. On our way we questioned local people. In the evening in the hotel, one of our police guards found out additional information confirming that our friends definitely followed the track into the mountains.

Since last day our interpreter was suffering from health problems. While driving in the village of BOGE he was in a very bad condition. Fortunately, the ambulance of Maltese knights just operated in the area. They provided first aid to the interpreter. It took about one hour before he could be transported. We lost too much time to be able to continue towards the mountains.

Back in the monastery we asked sister Michaela to ask our police-guards for their notes and translate them before we leave Albania.

[18 October] Meeting the OSCE representative in SHKODER. We provided them with all information on our investigation and we have been granted promises of further cooperation.

Return to the Czech embassy in TIRANA.

Boarding on ferry to Italy at 11 p.m.

[19-20 October] Journey across Italy back to CR.