Three of nine Kosovar Albanians accused of terrorism, freed by courts

NIS, Yugoslavia, Jan 27, 2000 -- (AFP) A Serbian court acquitted and released on Wednesday two of nine Kosovo Albanians facing trial on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization.

The court in Nis dismissed charges that the two men, Migjen Saliu, 24, and Bekim Saliu, 23, belonged to the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and ordered their release.

In a separate trial, a third man, Musli Rexhepi, 43, was sentenced to a year in prison for alleged membership in the KLA. But he was nevertheless released due to poor health.

Migjen and Bekim Saliu were arrested in May 1999 and denied the charges against them, saying they were forced by threats to join the KLA.

Rexhepi, who was detained in April, also said he had been forced to dig trenches for the KLA, which fought for independence for Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority but was officially demilitarized last September after the United Nations took over the administration of the Serbian province.

The court still convicted him and sentenced him to a year in jail. "But since I am an invalid and sick, they released me," Rexhepi said.

A third trial of six Albanians accused of organizing a local KLA unit in January 1999 in the Kosovo village Gracanica was adjourned until February 11.

Three of those defendants told the court they "were mistreated and beaten" by the Serbian police during their arrest in June 1999.

If found guilty, they face jail sentences of up to 15 years.

A total of 1,700 ethnic Albanians are currently held in Serbian prisons, mostly accused of being members of the KLA, according to the non-government Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade.

More than 170 ethnic Albanians have been convicted in the past three months and sentenced to jail terms ranging from three to 15 years.

More than 230 other defendants have been released since mid-June, when Belgrade transferred some 2,050 prisoners from Kosovo when it was forced by NATO air attacks to withdraw its forces from the province.

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