By Afrim Imaj
Memorie.al / Minella Andoni’s spectacular escape in January 1988 was one of the most sensational events of the last decade of the communist regime. It was the first time that the border checkpoint was blown up by a vehicle driven by one of the senior military personnel of the Ministry of Interior. The way they arrived in Yugoslavia, and later in the USA, the father of Arian Selim with 11 others, has rarely preoccupied the entire State Security pyramid, which was apparently caught by surprise.
“It was something unexpected, says one of the former deputy ministers of Internal Affairs, recalling the fact that the protagonist of the escape was one of the “masters of the house”. What’s more, Minella, according to him, came from a patriotic family and stood out in the service hierarchy for a prominent professional and cultural profile.
However, for number two of the Ministry of the Interior, the circumstances of how the border checkpoint exploded at noon on January 16, 1988, at the Hani i Hoti post, were completely specific and beyond the contours of other escapes. Furthermore, the former senior official of the Security reveals for the first time the untold stories of the spectacular escape of Arian Selim’s family and the odyssey of her arrival in the USA….!
In January 1988, when you were the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, a spectacular escape took place at the border point of Hani i Hoti, with the protagonist of a Police official, who, as far as we know, was also your friend. What do you remember from this sensational event?
Years have passed and of course many details are slowly retouched by time, but the contours of the event, for its specificity and the extraordinary noise it caused, I still remember. It was a somewhat special escape from the others, not only in terms of the number of people who infiltrated, but also in the manner of the border explosion. At the head of this whole adventure this time was one of the officers of the Ministry of the Interior who had violated the border posts dozens of times. I knew him closely, and as they say, we had a kind of friendship. I respected him especially for his professional skills and civic behavior…
It is about Minella Andoni…?!
Precisely for him, the son of a family knew for its outstanding patriotism and culture from Vunoi i Bregut. No one at that time thought of Minella’s escape. His biography alone did not leave you doubting the asses. One of the uncles, Llambro Andoni, was killed in the anti-fascist war and was declared “Hero of the People”. Almost the entire Andoni tribe had joined the ranks of the Labor Party.
Selected by these circumstances, Minella was recruited into the structures of the Ministry of Interior, after graduating from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Tirana. Right from the beginning, he presented himself as a skilled and demanding specialist. For several years he served as head of Prapavije, in the Police Directorate of Tirana. Dedication and professionalism at work made him known not only in the relevant sector of the Ministry, but also in the rest of the institution. The heads of the department themselves created a special respect for the way he operated in his sector…!
Beyond the job profile, who was Minella Andoni?
A good friend, close and communicative with acquaintances, a sensitive parent. Lover of books and especially football. This was Minella outside the contours of the uniform. I had the chance to get to know him as a family. My wife, Lucija, was from Shkodra. A civilized woman, given to the humor of her hometown. She worked as an economist at the “Bërryli” Trading Company (today the Rozafa center).
They went very well together. They clashed only when “Dinamo” faced “17 November”. Minella was the toasted “dynamovit”. She is a fan of the capital team. As far as I remember, it was the time when Ben Minga and Agustin Kola shone at “17 November” and at “Dinamo”, Demollari. They had two children, a boy and a girl…!
So, until the moment of his escape, there were no doubts about his personality…?
As long as he served in Tirana, he was known as one of the prominent logistics specialists of the structures of the Ministry of the Interior. I even remember that several times, his achievements were the subject of generalizations at the departmental level…!
At the height of this brilliance in Tirana, it happened that Minella Andoni was transferred to Shkodër…?!
This is where the story of his metamorphosis begins. At that time, the order of this transfer came as something of a surprise to Minella, and even to most of the personnel of the Ministry of the Interior. The case was not just about personnel turnover, but also about reduction in duties and responsibilities. All this, when the official procedure had started to appoint him to the Ministry, in charge of the rear sector. The transfer in such conditions followed an extra procedure…!
Not because of personality, professional skills, absenteeism, but because of completely different circumstances, which were never disclosed publicly? A very limited part of the denomination’s body was known by them…
I believe that the deputy minister of the line was also part of this narrow circle…?
He loved the order of the task, it was in the logic of the procedures, not just knowing the reasons for such movements, but also being involved in these delicate operations…!
So, Minella Andoni sat in office for issues that had nothing to do with professional skills and moral integrity. Then why did they transfer him to Shkodër?
About the issue of his wife, Lucie…!
What had happened to him?
Minella’s punishment was related to the history of Lucia’s visit to Italy. Despite the fact that the trip across the Adriatic, to meet relatives in Rome, was made according to official procedures, Minella’s wife had exceeded the official limits of the gifts brought from there. Even, not only those, but also the “limits” of expression in communication with relatives in Italy. More than that, Lucia after repatriation, became the object of the Security detectives, for the impressions from the “shocking” visit. Many of them, in different ways, had collected her surprises from the Italian reality and forwarded them without comment to the superiors. “Italy is completely different from what we used to enjoy”!
“There is real freedom, there is welfare and incredible progress”, “and Albania will need centuries to get closer to Italy”! It was these data that at that time were stigmatized with the phrase “agitation and propaganda”, for which you ended up in a cell. In this particular case, the fact that they were articulated by the wife of a senior soldier of the Ministry of the Interior, made the issue more delicate. As far as I remember, it was discussed for a long time in the pyramid of the Security and in the end, the transfer of Minella was found as an opportune solution. This was an unspoken reason, but, in any case, not unknown to Andoni, who was well acquainted with practices of this nature.
Under what circumstances did the escape from Hani i Hoti take place?
Minella’s escape with his family in mid-January 1988 was a well-organized operation. Apparently, the post of Chief of the Rear of the Interior Branch of the border district was an advantage for the idea of penetration into the West. The first tests for this, as we found out later, Minella had done at the border post of Murriqani, and after evaluating it as impossible, he concentrated on the idea of escaping from Hani i Hoti. Then he built the scheme, took the necessary people and tools in the car of the Ministry of the Interior and blew up the border checkpoint. Apparently, he took advantage of the fact that at the post office and customs, they were working on the reconstruction of their buildings…!
So easily could you escape in the middle of the day, from Hani i Hoti?
Minella was an officer of the Internal Branch of Shkodra and as such, he had the right to enter all border posts. So, there was no difficulty for him to overcome the checkpoint. The problem remained the rest of the family and friends, with whom he had decided to escape. They couldn’t even get close to the clone part, which were several kilometers away from the post office. Minella’s idea, to hide them in the body of the car, worked wonderfully and in a few minutes, they were on Yugoslav soil…
So there was no reaction from the border unit…
The way the escape was organized avoided any kind of reaction from the border unit. At least in the first moments. The car in which Minella was traveling from Tirana arrived at Han te Hoti around noon. Earlier, at the border post, it was announced that the chief of Prapavija was on his way to make the next supply. It was this announcement that removed any doubt about the presence of the mysterious truck on the territory of the post office.
Upon his arrival there, the security guard had no choice but to punch the boss of Prapavija and open the checkpoint without hesitation. Then, in a rage, the truck blew up the checkpoint of the Yugoslav side. At these moments, our guards opened fire. The group that had just escaped answered yes with fire. In a few moments, chaos took over our post office. Meanwhile, the situation at the opposite post office was put under immediate control…!
Who were the people in the car that blew up the checkpoint?
It was a group of 12 people. Minella with his wife, son Armado (Arian Selimi) 14 years old, daughter Mariola, 2 years old. The other eight were family members of Lucia’s brother and the truck driver. As far as I remember, the “Gaz 51” car that blew up the checkpoint belonged to the Directorate of Tirana. The ten “passengers”, unknown to the border guards, were hidden in the body, among different materials. Minella and the driver were in the cab all the time.
Were efforts made afterwards to repatriate the 12 fugitives?
Our authorities took action from the first day, but the Yugoslav side refused to repatriate them. After a few days, they returned the car and the part of the armament that Minella had taken with him…!
And from here the fugitives from Hani i Hoti arrived in the USA?
First they were accommodated in a prison near Titograd, then in a camp on the outskirts of Belgrade, where there were other fugitives. From there, the procedures to provide them with an American visa, as political immigrants, began. As far as I remember, the stay in Belgrade did not last more than two months. I have fixed this moment well in my memory, because we followed their movements step by step on the agency road.
A special operation was even organized for this, with the name “Neperka”, which was followed by the First Directorate (Counterintelligence) and the Third Directorate, intended for Political Intelligence, operating abroad. Until 1990, State Security had updated data about their activity and connections in the USA.
Secret report from Belgrade: Fugitives to the USA
A relation with data from Belgrade is the most interesting document of the State Security file, for the event of January 16, 1988. Apart from the “Top Secret” sign at the top (the other documents bear the designation “Secret”), the information makes it so special, collected in the agency way from foreign sources. Collected as a communication between the First Directorate (Counterintelligence) and the Third Directorate (Political Intelligence), the report on the escape of Minella Andoni and 11 others, contains the chronicle of the event revealed, according to the Yugoslav authorities, the latter’s assessments of the escape of unusual and updated data about those infiltrated from Albania.
The document clarifies that; the group of 12 people, escaped with Minella Andoni, after the control by Titograd authorities, was transferred to a camp on the outskirts of Belgrade. The Albanian detective has provided confirmed data that they will stay there for a month, and then they will be taken to the “Trimi” hotel to prepare the procedures for political asylum seekers. Thus, the report reflects the fact that in pursuit of the fugitives of January 16, 1988, the First Directorate of State Security has built the “Neperka” operation.
But what else does the highly secret material of the Secret Police reflect….?
“The family that escaped to Yugoslavia on January 16, 1988, had with them 6 automatic weapons and 12 pistols. At the moment of crossing the border, they used smoke bombs, while the officer fired a machine gun in the air. In the vehicle with which they made their escape, they had loaded old wooden furniture, as well as other items, in order to protect themselves from the possible gunshots of the border guards. One of their children was found unconscious, because before crossing the border, he started crying and was hit by the officer with the handle of the pistol.
On the other side of the border, the fugitives were received without any particular reaction. After the Secretariat of Internal Affairs of Titograd was notified, the alarm was given and all vehicles moving from the border in the direction of Titograd were checked, because they suspected that there may be other border violators from other points. This control continued for several days in a row.
The attention of the Yugoslav border authorities has been drawn to this event, as they were unable to react at the moment of the violation of the border by force and the use of weapons by the Albanian fugitives. Currently, the fugitives are in the Spuzhe prison, near Titograd, and upon completion of the investigations, they will be sent to the Belgrade camp. Regarding this event, apart from the brief announcement given on radio, television and the Yugoslav press, no special comments have been made so far.
From another data of the III Directorate, it is said that: “The group of 12 people, who escaped with Minella Andoni, has taken them to Belgrade in the last few days. They have placed them on the outskirts of the city and keep them semi-isolated. It is thought that they will stay there for about 30 days and then they will be taken to the “Trim” hotel, or to some other place in the city, where there are other fugitives. While from the family that escaped from Vermoshi, five people have been issued visas to go to the USA”.
The above data was also seen by the deputy minister, comrade Zylyftar Ramizi, who ordered that these materials be sent to Shkodra and Tirana, to follow their connections. On your part, on the basis of the defined plan and the tasks set up for the processing of the fugitive Minella and Luciana Andoni’s connections, to work on the completion within the defined deadlines, for the data that will come out to notify the 1st branch, which follows him centrally in the “Viperka” problem.
A real storm erupted after the event of January 16, 1988, in the Shkodra Department of Internal Affairs, but not only. Within the day, 20 officers were dismissed, including the entire chain of the institution’s hierarchy. The Head of the Branch and his two deputies were the first victims of the aggressive reaction to the extraordinary event.
In the same way, with a clear order they greeted; “Farewell gun”! The chief of the Border, the commander of the Battalion, of the battery of the Khan of Hoti and the two non-commissioned officers of the service. The case of Hani t Hoti cost the director of the State Security, the director of the border and the director of the Tirana Police his job. Memorie.al