Serbia drops charges against four Kosovar Albanians

BELGRADE, Jan 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Four Kosovo Albanian men, held in Serb jails since July 1998 on terrorism charges, were freed on Thursday after the case against them was dismissed, a human rights lawyer said.

"I was very surprised. It was a rare case really because they were released of all the charges," said Radovan Dedijer, a lawyer from Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Fund, which attends the trials of some 2,000 Kosovo Albanians now jailed in Serbia.

"Normally they issue a conviction at least to cover the time already spent in jail," Dedijer said by telephone.

The four men were escorted back to Kosovo by the International Red Cross, the fund said.

They were arrested on July 6, 1998 and accused of participating in an attack on a column of Serb police vehicles in the Kosovo village of Donja Krusica.

Police were targeted by separatist Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas during a year-long conflict with the security forces which preceded last year's NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia that forced Serb police and troops from the province.

The defendants denied the charges, saying police picked them up at random. One said he was arrested while in hospital.

The fund praised the decision by the court in Pozarevac, home town of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Dedijer said the judges were Serbs from the Kosovo town of Prizren.

It also appealed to other courts in Serbia not to let politics influence their decisions.

Dedijer said dozens more trials were due in the coming weeks, but that it was difficult to predict which if any of the defendants would be freed.

One case soon to come to court involves 155 men from the western Kosovo town of Djakovica who human rights activists say were picked from refugee columns during the air strikes, when hundreds of thousands of Albanians fled a Serb campaign of terror.

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