By MISHA SAVICProtesters demand justice for imprisoned Serbs in Kosovo
KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (May 13, 2000) - Thousands of relatives and supporters of imprisoned Kosovo Serbs held a march Saturday to demand speedy trials and freedom for inmates being held at the NATO-run jail here.
The protest was in Kosovska Mitrovica, the northern Kosovo city which has the largest Serb population in the province. Thirty-seven Serbs and five Roma, or Gypsies, have been held in detention here for months, charged with a variety of offenses ranging from war crimes to common criminal acts.
Their trials have been delayed because Kosovo has lacked a functioning judicial system since NATO peacekeepers and U.N. officials assumed control of the province.
"This is a situation of a complete legal insecurity. This is terror that cannot be tolerated," said Jovan Dinkic, a representative of the local Serb community.
Detainees went on a hunger strike last month to protest the delay in their trials. About two dozen wives and mothers of detained Serbs also have started a hunger strike in a show of solidarity.
Three of the inmates, whose health is said to have deteriorated, have now been transferred to a local hospital.
The Serbs are also angry over what they perceive as U.N. and NATO authorities' preferential treatment of ethnic Albanian suspects. They claim their ethnic Albanian counterparts are rarely kept in detention even if they are suspected of committing crimes.
Responding to the nearly daily protests by Kosovo Serbs, U.N. administrators on Friday pledged to start holding trials by next month, despite a lack of personnel or an adequate legal framework. Serbs have rejected U.N. offers to take part in multiethnic courts.
Dinkic said that since Kosovo officially remains part of Serbia under a U.N. resolution, the trials should be held according to the laws of Serbia and the Yugoslav federation, in which Serbia is the dominant republic.