Kosovars pay ransoms for relatives

Friday, 31 March, 2000

Kosovo Albanians are being forced to pay thousands of Deutschmarks to free relatives held in Serbian prisons.
Thousands of men are still missing one year after Nato began its bombing campaign to halt Serb violence against the Albanian population.
Their families are pleading for international help, but the United Nations administration seems unable to help.

Shadowy lawyers
Women holding portraits of missing menfolk mob the the head of the administration, Bernard Kouchner, when he makes public appearances in the province.
"We are asking the West, which helped us get back to our homes, to help us again - this time to find our missing people," said one of the women, Hajrije Ibrahimi, whose husband has been missing for a year.
Wealthier families are sometimes able to do deals through shadowy lawyers.
The men are brought to the border of Kosovo and Serbia where the handover is observed by British troops.

Captain Jonathan Williamson of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, described the scene to the BBC's Ben Brown:
"A lawyer comes down from Serbia into the security zone. He will be met by someone from the family here and this is where the negotiations take place.
"You will see money changing hands ... The going figure is 10,000 to 30,000 DM ($5,000 to $15,000), so it's a significant amount of money."
One released prisoner, Gezmand Zeka, said: "It's hard, because it's the poor who end up suffering, the rich never suffer."
He added: "I don't know if my family paid for me. I won't thank them if they did."
Some agonised relatives have asked the UN to buy back their relatives.
Mr Kouchner said he had raised the subject in the UN Security Council, and asked in vain for the appointment of a special representative to handle the issue.
At present all he can offer the relatives is comfort.

Original article