Rights panel urges US on KosovarsMch 01, 2000
WASHINGTON - Members of a US government human rights commission urged President Clinton late on Monday to put more pressure on Yugoslavia to release ethnic Albanians still held prisoner in Serbia while not tolerating retaliation against Serbs in Kosovo.
But an administration official said Europeans could do more to achieve prisoner releases than the US government.
Reflecting growing frustration with NATOs inability to resolve the Balkans crisis, the US Helsinki Commission, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, faced a variety of pleas of justice for Kosovos ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Gypsies, also known as Roma.
John K. Menzies, deputy special adviser to the president and the secretary of state for Kosovo, told the commission that peace is gradually taking hold in the UN-protected province, but he said resolution of the problem of displaced and imprisoned Kosovars is needed for violence to end.
"We are beginning to see results," Menzies told the commission, citing progress in power generation, banking, mining and housing construction.
But he added: "The continued detention of Albanians in Serbia remains a tragic and acutely vexing issue."
He said the lack of diplomatic relations with Belgrade makes it difficult for the United States to directly pressure Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
"The truth is that European nations are in a better position than the US to take the lead on this," Menzies said, noting that Italy, Canada and Japan all have representatives in Belgrade. He said the Finnish and private non-government groups have conducted some negotiations for prisoners release.
Menzies cited estimates of up to 5,000 ethnic Albanians held in Belgrade-controlled prisons. Most of the few hundred who have been released, he said, have had relatives buy their freedom with ransoms paid to corrupt officials.
The Helsinki Commission, made up of senators, House members and representatives of the Clinton administration, issued no declaration at its hearing. But individual members urged Clinton to take a stronger interest.