NY Times
Rights panel urges US on Kosovars

February 28, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Members of a U.S. government human rights commission urged President Clinton on Monday to put more pressure on Yugoslavia to release ethnic Albanians still held prisoner in Serbia while not tolerating retaliation against Serbs in Kosovo.

But an administration official said Europeans could do more to achieve prisoner releases than the U.S. government.

Reflecting growing frustration with NATO's inability to resolve the Balkans crisis, the U.S. Helsinki Commission, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, faced a variety of pleas of justice for Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Gypsies, also known as Roma.

John K. Menzies, deputy special adviser to the president and the secretary of state for Kosovo, told the commission that peace is gradually taking hold in the U.N.-protected Serb province, but he said resolution of the problem of displaced and imprisoned Kosovars is needed for violence to end.

"We are beginning to see results," Menzies told the commission, citing progress in power generation, banking, mining and housing construction.

But he added: "The continued detention of Albanians in Serbia remains a tragic and acutely vexing issue."

He said the lack of diplomatic relations with Belgrade makes it difficult for the United States to directly pressure Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"The truth is that European nations are in a better position than the U.S. to take the lead on this," Menzies said, noting that Italy, Canada and Japan all have representatives in Belgrade. He said the Finnish and private non-government groups have conducted some negotiations for prisoners' release.

Menzies cited estimates of up to 5,000 ethnic Albanians held in Belgrade-controlled prisons. Most of the few hundred who have been released, he said, have had relatives buy their freedom with ransoms paid to corrupt officials.

The Helsinki Commission, made up of senators, House members and representatives of the Clinton administration, issued no declaration at its hearing. But individual members urged Clinton to take a stronger interest.

"The people who languish in Serbian prisons are not the cause of ethnic tensions; the war criminals who took them as they fled Kosovo are," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., agreed that the United States should press for the prisoners' release but also said he did not vote for the NATO bombing so the ethnic Albanians, who had been driven out of their homes, could "do the same thing to the Serb population."

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.M., chairman of the hearing, said ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Roma all are suffering.

"Many Kosovar Albanians languish in Serbian prisons, seemingly for no reason other than the Milosevic regime's well documented desire to inflict pain on as many innocent people as possible," Smith said.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., committee co-chairman, said in a statement that continued deployment of Western forces in Kosovo does little to stop human rights violations.

"People need to get out of the refugee camps and prisons and get back to their homes as soon as possible," Campbell said.

Original article