Kosovo body demands handover of prisoners in Serbia

PRISTINA, May 11, 2000 -- (Reuters) A multi-ethnic Kosovo council demanded on Wednesday that Yugoslavia hand over all prisoners from the province held in Serbian prisons to its U.N-led administration (UNMIK).

Kosovo Transitional Council members also condemned strongly past crimes and discrimination against Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and against minority Serbs after last year's NATO air war.

"This is the most important meeting we've had," said United Nations administrator Bernard Kouchner, hailing a statement by the Council calling for the handover as historic.

The Council, a sort of mini-parliament set up by the UN to reflect the spectrum of Kosovo society and headed by Kouchner, said the handover should include all Kosovo Albanians and members of other communities.

It also called for the appointment of a special UN envoy for detainees and missing persons.

Kosovo's Serbs have been the targets of widespread intimidation and attacks by revenge-seeking members of the ethnic Albanian majority since the United Nations and NATO took over responsibility for the province last June.

The Serbs quit Kosovo's multi-ethnic bodies last September in protest at the violence, but some of their leaders ended the boycott last month.

The Council's statement said it "demands of the authorities of (Yugoslavia) the unconditional handover to the UNMIK authorities of all Kosovo Albanians and members of other Kosovo communities held in Serbian prisons..."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) last year said about 2,000 Kosovo Albanians were in Serbian prisons, many of them seized during NATO's March-to-June bombing and then bussed to Serbia proper when Yugoslav forces withdrew.

An ICRC official last month released new figures, saying 820 Kosovo Albanians had since been freed and that 1,279 were still jailed. Serbia says it has 965 Kosovo Albanian prisoners.


Council members also expressed "serious concern" about the situation of Kosovo's Serbs and other minorities in the province, adding:

"All members...and, in particular, the Kosovo Albanian members of the council, express their strongest condemnation of the crimes and violent acts against the Serb and other communities in post-conflict Kosovo and call for the perpetrators of such crimes to be brought to justice."

In a similarly-worded paragraph, it said all council members and in particular its Serb members condemned crimes, repression and discrimination suffered by Kosovo's Albanians in the past.

One of the Serb members, Rada Trajkovic, said it was the first time rights violations against Serbs were recognized.

"The Serb community has also previously condemned misdeeds of the Milosevic regime, but here for the first time we also have the condemnation of the Albanian community on what is happening to the Serbs," she said.

An ethnic Albanian member, Xhavit Haliti, said the condemnation by the Serb representatives of crimes against ethnic Albanians was a good step forward.

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