Kosovo prisoner protests staged as UN envoys arrive

PRISTINA, Apr 28, 2000 -- (Reuters) Ethnic Albanians renewed street protests on Thursday to demand the release of compatriots held in Serbian prisons as top UN envoys began a fact-finding visit to Kosovo.

As on Wednesday, thousands of people, silently waving banners, rallied along a 500-metre (1,650-foot) stretch of a main street through the provincial capital Pristina.

Some of Wednesday's protesters sat at intersections throughout the night and on into Thursday, snarling traffic.

Armed United Nations police kept a wedge of demonstrators well back from the entrance to UN administration headquarters where an eight-member UN Security Council delegation began talks at the start of a three-day visit.

Organizers say rallies will be held daily throughout the Yugoslav province, which is under UN administration and secured by NATO peacekeepers, until the prisoners are freed.

They say 7,000 of their people are in Serbian prisons or missing since last year's conflict. Serbia says it now has 965 Kosovo Albanian prisoners.

Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) put the figure at more than 2,000 prisoners. An ICRC official released new figures on Thursday, saying 820 Kosovo Albanians had since been freed and 1,279 were still jailed.

Among the remaining prisoners were nine women and nine under 19 years of age, he told Reuters.

Four were released early on Thursday, the official said.

"The ICRC on Thursday accompanied to Kosovo four persons who were released from prison by the authorities in Serbia...(all) from Pozarevac prison," he said.

Many Kosovo Albanians think missing people are in prisons in Serbia but their names are not in the published lists.

International human rights groups have called on Serbian authorities to free the detainees, including prominent humanitarian doctor Flora Brovina and student activist Albin Kurti, saying the charges against many of them are bogus.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic declared an amnesty for a "certain number of prisoners" to mark Thursday's Yugoslav Statehood Day, the official news agency Tanjug reported. But it was unclear how many prisoners would benefit.

Original article