Aid worker released in YUJanuary 2, 2000
BELGRADE, Serbia, Jan. 1 -- The government has freed a Yugoslav employee of the aid organization CARE who had been in prison since May on spying charges, aid workers and officials said today.
Branko Jelen, 34, an employee of CARE's Australian branch, was freed late Friday. He and two Australians who also worked for the aid group were convicted in May of spying against Yugoslavia during the 78-day bombing by NATO over Kosovo. The two Australians, Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, were freed four months later after President Slobodan Milosevic issued a pardon.
A CARE spokesman and officials in Australia said that Mr. Jelen had been granted asylum there and would travel to Australia with his wife and two children as soon as he was fit.
"He has been though an ordeal," the spokesman, Antony Funnell, said from Sydney. "He was detained in early April, and his health is not the best. He will spend a couple of days with the counselor and doctor to make sure he is fit to travel."
He added that Mr. Jelen would be "coming out here to live."
"From our perspective we would prefer that he get here sooner rather than later," Mr. Funnell said.
Malcolm Fraser, a former prime minister who is CARE's chairman in Australia, said Mr. Jelen should never have been jailed.
"Like Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, he was a victim of a senseless conflict which only compounded the tremendous suffering of thousands of people in the Balkans," Mr. Fraser said in a statement.
"With the last of the humanitarian aid workers now free, it is time for Western nations to take up the United Nations' recent call for a full resumption of humanitarian assistance to Yugoslavia in order to meet the serious need for aid within that country," he added.
Mr. Fraser attributed the release to the diplomatic efforts of CARE's staff and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of Australia, and to international pressure from figures like Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, and George Papandreou, the Greek foreign minister.
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