European lawyers' group demands release of Kosovo murder suspect

PRISTINA, Aug 7, 2000 -- (AFP) An association representing magistrates from 15 European countries has demanded that Kosovo's UN appointed administrator release a murder suspect held in jail in "manifestly illegal" circumstances, the group told AFP Sunday.

Bernard Kouchner, Kosovo's de facto governor, ordered on July 28 that Afrim Zeqiri be detained in a military base for 30 days despite a ruling by an international judge that there was insufficient evidence to mount a case against him.

In a letter dated August 3 and obtained by AFP, European Magistrates for Democracy and Liberties (MEDEL), which says it represents many thousands of lawyers across the continent, told Kouchner of its "extreme concern" over the decision.

His decision to annul a judicial order to free Zeqiri could "ruin the credibility of Kosovo justice" and was "manifestly illegal", the letter said. It finished by demanding the suspect's immediate release.

Zeqiri, an ethnic Albanian, was arrested on suspicion of shooting dead three Serbs, including a four-year-old child, on May 28 this year in what appeared to be a crime motivated by ethnic hatred.

A Serbian eye-witness to the shooting identified Zeqiri as the gunman and his car was seen leaving the scene, but ethnic Albanian witnesses later came forward to confirm his alibi, that he was elsewhere drinking coffee at the time of the attack, police sources told AFP.

An ethnic Albanian prosecutor decided last month that there was no credible case to be made against Zeqiri and a UN-appointed Finnish judge ruled that he should be released.

Before the court's order could come into effect Kouchner stepped in and ordered that Zeqiri continue to be detained "for security reasons" in Camp Bondsteel, the main camp for US peacekeepers attached the the KFOR multinational force.

UN spokeswoman Claire Trevena said Sunday that Kouchner's decision was taken under the executive authority granted him by UN Security Council 1244, signed in June last year.

"He has the power to make these decisions for security reasons," she said, adding that the decision would be reviewed on August 24.

But MEDEL argued that Kouchner's decision in December last year to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into Kosovo law superceded 1244, and left decisions on detention in the hands of the judiciary.

"The 'detention authorization' you gave to KFOR ... is of a nature to ruin the credibility of Kosovar justice, which has had its authority ridiculed," the letter said.

"We can imagine the immense difficulties with which you are confronted every day in trying to maintain security in a region permanently on the verge of explosion. But it nevertheless seems to us that peace in Kosovo can come only through the rule of law."

Original article