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UN, Nato guilty of Kosovo rights abuses - Amnesty

PRISTINA, Mar 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) Amnesty International accused NATO and the United Nations on Monday of failing to observe high human rights standards in Kosovo.

In a report focusing on an outbreak of violence last month in the volatile city of Mitrovica, the human rights organisation called for an independent inquiry into the fatal shooting of an ethnic Albanian man by the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force.

It also said 49 people detained by French troops in the aftermath of the violence were kept in inhumane, cold and unsanitary conditions and denied rights such as being told of the reasons for their arrest and being given access to lawyers.

Liz Griffin, an Amnesty field worker in Kosovo who co-wrote the report, said the organisation feared the abuses documented in Mitrovica pointed to broader failings on the part of KFOR and the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which runs civilian affairs.

"We are concerned that the violations that we observed that day in Mitrovica are illustrative of a wider pattern of disregard for human rights by KFOR and UNMIK while operating in the capacity of a law enforcement agency in Kosovo," she said.

KFOR and UNMIK said they would study the report. "I think that it points to the problems we've been having in establishing a judicial system," UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel said.

A lack of international police in the city meant troops have had to perform duties for which they were untrained, she said.

Since the new wave of violence began in Mitrovica in early February, the United Nations had doubled the number of police in the city and had appointed an international judge and prosecutor to kick start the judicial system, Manuel said.

U.N. "NOT UPHOLDING ITS OWN STANDARDS"

Amnesty said the United Nations had a special responsibility to uphold the human rights standards it created.

"However, we have noted that the U.N. appears to be reluctant to take into consideration its own standards when operating in Kosovo," Griffin told reporters in Pristina.

The Amnesty report urges international authorities to set up an independent mechanism for complaints about their staff. "We note at present that there is absolutely no accountability for the actions of KFOR and UNMIK in Kosovo," Griffin said.

The organisation said it was concerned KFOR had not mounted an independent investigation into the death of Avni Hajredini, who was killed in the violence which erupted on February 13. Two French soldiers were wounded during the gunbattles.

KFOR initially said Hajredini was a sniper who was killed by one of its soldiers after shooting at them. It subsequently backtracked, saying it could only be sure that he was among a group of armed ethnic Albanians shooting at its troops.

On the arrests of the 49 people - most if not all of them Albanians - later in the day, Amnesty said they had been held in a small gymnasium with no heating, where temperatures were around zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and the floor was filthy with mud.

Amnesty said it was not aware that any of those held had been charged in connection with the violence or even brought before a judge. When it visited the gymnasium four days after the suspects were detained, 14 were still being held there.

When they suggested improving conditions for the detainees, Amnesty's delegates said they were told by a French KFOR official: "They are no angels...these people shot my soldiers".



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