Serb court jails five ethnic Albanians for 1 year

NIS, Yugoslavia, Feb 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) A court in the southern Serbian town of Nis sentenced five ethnic Albanians from Kosovo to one year prison terms on Tuesday for conspiring to commit hostile activities.

The trial was one of several cases brought against Kosovo Albanians for their alleged role in fighting Serb rule in the southern province.

Many of them were arrested by Serb forces during NATO's March-to-June bombing campaign and transferred to other parts of Serbia. Kosovo is now under de facto international control after Yugoslav forces withdrew in June.

Muharem and Afrim Gashi, Sami and Avdi Vitija and Nusret Sadiku, all from the Pristina area, were arrested last May.

The charges said the five men were all members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). It was not clear what role they had played in the guerrilla organization.

Their time in detention will be deducted from the sentences.

Radovan Dedijer, a lawyer of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Fund, said a number of such trials would be held in Nis and other cities in Serbia in the coming days.

But he said court proceedings were being slowed down by the fact that case files had been left behind in Pristina.

"We have a tragi-comic situation with these people sitting in jails for a long time waiting for trials while files on their cases are missing," Dedijer said.

The Belgrade office of the International Committee of the Red Cross said there were still some 1,600 Kosovo Albanian prisoners in Serb jails.

A spokeswoman said it had helped transfer some 400 back to Kosovo in cooperation with Serb authorities after they were released.

Kosovo Albanians arrested during NATO's air war are charged either with terrorism which carries a sentence of up to 20 years, or with the lighter charge of conspiring to commit hostile activities, which carries up to five years, Dedijer said.

The most famous trial was of prominent Kosovo Albanian doctor, humanitarian worker and poet Flora Brovina who was sentenced to 12 years in jail last December for terrorism during NATO bombing.

Original article