Sunday, 3 September, 2000UN shock at mass jailbreak
The United Nations mission in Kosovo has launched an investigation into what it is calling the 'disastrous' escape of 15 Serb prisoners from its detention centre in the northern town of Mitrovica.
The men, who were being held on war crimes charges, escaped on Saturday after overpowering four guards on duty at the UN-run prison.
Two of the prisoners were subsequently recaptured.
The escape has raised questions about the level of UN policing in Kosovo and about the wisdom of holding all Serb prisoners at the same detention centre.
A total of 22 prisoners have escaped in the last seven months.
"It's more than embarrassing," said UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel.
Series of escapes
"It's very, very disturbing and shocking not only because these people are at large, but what's disastrous is the signal that it sends to the majority of Kosovars who are waiting for us to administer justice in cases of war crimes."
She said the incident underlined a chronic shortage of UN police officers and other qualified staff.
International officials in Mitrovica say the escape was a disaster waiting to happen.
They say they have warned UN headquarters repeatedly about the risk of holding so many Serb prisoners together in Mitrovica jail.
There have been regular disturbances in and around the prison and it is only a short distance to Serbia proper, where the escaped prisoners would be beyond the reach of international law.
Since the mass jail-break, police and Nato-led K-For peacekeeping troops have set up road blocks and have been searching houses in the city.
UN police spokesman Andrea Agnelli said the escape happened when one prisoner had been allowed to use the telephone, and, when the door was opened to return him to jail, the guard escorting him was ambushed by other prisoners.
The prisoners then unlocked cells, held up other officers and two translators at gunpoint, tied them up and stole $2,800 of German marks.
The prisoners - one third of the total number in the detention centre - then escaped by scaling a perimeter fence.
Of the 13 escapees still at large, four are accused of war crimes, three of genocide, four of mass murder, one of murder and one of arson and theft.
Held without trial
Most were arrested in July and August last year following the arrival of K-For and the UN.
The jail, in the Serb-dominated northern sector of the ethnically-divided city, has been used as one of the main centres for Serb prisoners in Kosovo.
The inmates, many of them charged with war crimes, have often protested about the length of time they have been held without trial.