Imprisoned ethnic Albanian leader vows fight for Kosovo will continue

POZAREVAC, Apr 25, 2000 -- (AFP) An ethnic Albanian student leader jailed on terrorist charges in Yugoslavia insisted this weekend that the struggle for an independent Kosovo would continue.

Albin Kurti, 25, was jailed last month for 15 years by a Serbian court which found him guilty of having been a member of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which Belgrade regards as a terrorist group.

"Only an independent Kosovo could guarantee stability in the region. Only in an independent Kosovo, would Albanians feel free, safe and able to realize their rights," Kurti told reporters touring his prison Saturday.

Kurti was speaking to a group of foreign and local reporters, escorted by Serbian Justice minister Dragoljub Jankovic, who were visiting a prison in Pozarevac, the hometown of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Together with some 2,050 more ethnic Albanians jailed by the Serb police, Kurti was transferred from the province to Serbia proper with the withdrawal of Belgrade's forces from Kosovo last June.

Kosovo is now administered by the United Nations.

"Serbia does not control Kosovo anymore and that is good," Kurti said. He warned: "The way towards the independence has not been over yet."

Speaking in English, Kurti refused to answer questions from Serb journalists or officials of the Serbian justice ministry.

During the trial, Kurti denounced Serbian state institutions, refused to accept a court-appointed lawyer and said he did not recognize "Milosevic's justice."

Speaking to reporters in a prison yard, dressed in a pale jeans and dark blue shirt, with his characteristic curly hair shaved off, Kurti insisted he would not appeal against his sentence.

"I do not recognize the state of Serbia and its system and laws, and as a result, I am not going to ask for any kind of mercy or appeal," Kurti said.

He refused to talk about "facilities or conditions" in prison, insisting this would "miss the point." All the Albanians "are held in an unjust way ... just because they are Albanians," he insisted.

Kurti insisted he had been jailed because of his "political activity" and not terrorism. He said he was a "political prisoner," just as were another 248 Albanians jailed in Pozarevac.

Jankovic said 979 prisoners brought from Kosovo were still being held in Serbian prisons. All but 15 or 20 of them were ethnic Albanians, he said.

Asked about the violence against Serbs in Kosovo that has followed the air strikes, Kurti said all those who had committed war crimes should be tried no matter they were Serbs or Albanians.

"All those who were war criminals should go to an international court," he said.

His words were echoed by another prominent Kosovo Albanian prisoner, Flora Brovina, 52, sentenced by a Serb court to 12 years for "terrorist activities."

"Revenge leads nowhere ... I just wish the situation would calm down in Kosovo. People must drop revenge and reconcile with one another and everyone should go back to their homes, to their land," Brovina said.

Unlike Kurti, Brovina and her lawyers have lodged an appeal. She will appear on May 16 in front of Belgrade's Supreme Court.

"During the trial, I kept waiting for justice to be done to me, but justice being done would have meant that I didn't end up in prison," she said, speaking in Serbian rather than her Albanian mother tongue.

Brovina was accused of associating with and helping the KLA, but she denied the charges, saying her work was purely humanitarian.

"I am a doctor and a poet. I have committed no terrorist acts. I only care for sick children," she added.

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