Serb court charges 144 Kosovo Albanians with terrorism

BELGRADE, Jan 14, 2000 -- (AFP) A court in southern Leskovac charged 144 Kosovo Albanians with terrorism Thursday in connection with attacks that killed two Yugoslav soldiers and a policeman, and wounded six others, said the Beta news agency.

The defendants, alleged members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) already being held in Serbian jails, are accused of "numerous terrorist attacks, attacking the Serbian police, Yugoslav army and citizens of non-Albanian nationalities," Beta quoted the court's indictment as saying.

The attacks took place in 1999 around the Kosovo city of Djakovica.

This is the largest group of ethnic-Albanians to be charged by Serbian courts since around 2,050 prisoners were taken to Serbia proper as Belgrade's troops withdrew from Kosovo last June.

"This group of terrorists was caught in May 1999 trying to illegally cross the border to Albania," the indictement said.

Many of the jailed Albanians are accused of belonging to or supporting the KLA, which Belgrade considers a terrorist organization.

The group was officially demilitarized in September.

Meanwhile, a Belgrade-based human rights group said that 10 Albanian Kosovars held since June 1998 on terrorism charges were freed Thursday after the case against them was dismissed for lack of evidence.

They were handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who escorted them back to the southern Serbian province, said the Humanitarian Law Center.

It also said Serb courts had convicted more than 170 ethnic Albanians in the last three months of 1999, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years.

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