137 Kosovo judges and prosecutors sworn in by UN administration

PRISTINA, Jan 25, 2000 -- (AFP) Kosovo's U.N. administration swore in 137 judges and prosecutors on Monday as part of a huge province-wide initiative to jump-start the collapsed judicial system and combat crime.

The new judges and prosecutors will work in courts in the region of the provincial capital Pristina, including the Supreme Court, with their mandates backdated to January 1, the U.N. said in a statement.

The move is part of an ongoing process to draft in as quickly as possible some 400 judges and prosecutors pledged by the U.N. mission last month to tackle widespread crime in the troubled post-war Yugoslav province.

"I express confidence and hope that your appointments will provide a new impetus in our concerted efforts to uproot crime and foster multi-ethnic coexistence as well as a culture of tolerance," said Pristina's U.N. head Enrique Aguilar.

Kosovo's U.N. head Bernard Kouchner pledged the new judicial workers last month as part of a crime-busting package that included the reintroduction of Kosovo's pre-1989 laws, overturned when Belgrade scrapped Kosovar autonomy.

Many ethnic Albanian judges had refused to work with the Yugoslav law that was in place since the U.N. took over the running of the province last June after NATO bombed Serb forces out of Kosovo for oppressing the Albanian majority.

Others simply went ahead and used the pre-1989 law, a move which provoked the resignation of several remaining Serb judges.

The impasse had led to the release of many people being held on minor charges, as prisons were unable to cope with the backlog of detainees created by the lack of trials.

International security services, from the U.N. police to commanders of the 42,00O international peacekeeping troops here, complained of an atmosphere of impunity that arose from the deadlock.

When unveiling the new legal measures, Kouchner said that in the U.N.'s first five months in Kosovo, 400 murders had been committed but only four cases had come to trial.

The U.N. mission is also training a local police force, with some 350 graduates so far, as well as drafting in local workers to staff prisons.

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