Serbia frees 49 ethnic Albanian prisoners

BELGRADE, Jan 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia has freed 49 Kosovo Albanians over the past two days who had been held in prison since September 1998, the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Fund was quoted as saying on Friday.

Twenty-seven were released on Friday and 22 on Thursday, according to Beta news agency.

"The court in Pozarevac held two trials today and then set free 27 Kosovo Albanians," Fund lawyer Radovan Dedijer was quoted by Beta as saying on Friday.

Dedijer said 22 of the men were sentenced to 16 months in prison and then released as they had already spent that long in pre-trial detention. Charges against two others were dropped and the remaining three were acquitted.

Of the 22 released on Thursday, 12 had also received 16-month sentenced and were then freed.

Dedijer said the prosecutor had reduced the original charges of terrorism, carrying possible terms of up to 20 years imprisonment, down to conspiring to carry out hostile activities, a much less serious crime.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said almost 2,000 Kosovo Albanians are being held in Serb jails. Kosovo Albanian organisations say the real figure is much higher.

Yugoslav authorities say they were involved in terrorism during the conflict between Serb forces and Kosovo Albanian separatist guerrillas. Human rights lawyers say many of the sentences are backed by little or no evidence.