CEOL - Serbia Frees 47 Kosovar Albanians, May Release More

BELGRADE, Nov 17, 1999 -- (Reuters) Dozens of Kosovar Albanians arrested during NATO's bombing campaign were freed from prison in Serbia at the weekend and another big group could be released soon, aid officials and human rights activists said on Tuesday.

Gordana Milekovic, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, said 47 people were handed over by Serbian police, or MUP, to the NATO-led peacekeepers now in Kosovo, on the border between the province and the rest of Serbia.

"They were released on Sunday and transported by MUP to the administrative border and handed over to KFOR (peacekeepers). Our people then took them to Pristina," she said by telephone.

The Serbian authorities have given the ICRC a list of almost 2,000 Kosovo Albanians held in Serbian jails for their alleged involvement in a campaign against rule from Belgrade.

Latest release means 267 now free

Human rights activists say the majority have not been charged and 267 of them have subsequently been freed, including the latest group.

Many of those held were arrested during 11 weeks of NATO air strikes which coincided with the climax of a campaign of terror against Kosovo's Albanian majority by Serb security forces and paramilitaries, who blamed the Albanians for the bombing.

Natasa Kandic, Director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, said the six-month deadline by which the authorities had to press charges or release prisoners was coming up for hundreds of people.

She expected another large group, from Djakovica in southwestern Kosovo, to be freed soon.

"In Leskovac court during this week 155 Albanians from Djakovica will appear. On my information all of them were arrested during the NATO intervention, divided from their families," she told Reuters.

"I believe they will be released. I don't believe there could be any reason to sentence them because they were civilians," she said.

Lawyers from Kandic's office are attending trials of ethnic Albnians from Kosovo almost daily.

In the most famous case, pediatrician and human rights activist Flora Brovina, who was arrested outside her flat in April, appeared in court last week charged with terrorism.

Her trial was postponed until next week and her lawyer said it was too early to say if she would be freed, although he said the prosecutor had produced no evidence to back the charges.

Kandic, one of the few Serbs who ventured into Kosovo to investigate atrocities committed against the Albanians during the air strikes, said there were allegations by both Serbs and Albanians that the other side was holding people secretly.

She said she had discovered some cases of Serbs being held by individual members of the now disbanded ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army for money but no KLA jails, and there was no political interest for Serbia to hold Albanians in secret.

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