Serbia frees 143 Kosovo Albanians
Thousands of Albanians welcomed home 143 of their brethren amidst emotional scenes on Wednesday. They returned to Kosovo after spending almost two years in Serb jails, accused of terrorism during the 1999 war.
Serbia freed the Đakovica group after the supreme court on Monday ordered their release pending a retrial, citing what it claims was faulty procedure in the original trial.
The release could be seen as a further sign that Yugoslavia's new authorities are distancing themselves from the country's turbulent past under Slobodan Milošević.
Western governments had called on Belgrade to release the prisoners, condemning their convictions last year as groundless. "This is a very important step taken by them," said Hans Haekkerup, who heads the U.N. administration in Kosovo.
Sixteen hundred years in jail
The Đakovica group was sentenced last May to prison terms of up to 13 years each, or a total of 1632 years, in what was the biggest mass trial in Yugoslav history. They had been taken to Serbia proper when Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo in June 1999, at the end of NATO's air war to halt Belgrade's repressive policies in the province.
Most of the 2000 or so Kosovo Albanian prisoners taken to Serbia proper at the end of the Kosovo war have now been freed, but Haekkerup said 200 remained behind bars.
Britain urges communication
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, on a two day Balkan tour of Kosovo and Montenegro, urged Kosovo's ethnic Albanians on Tuesday to rebuild contacts with Belgrade's new government, instead of focusing on ambitions for independence. He also asked the Albanian majority to commit itself to creating a multi-ethnic, democratic society living under constant international protection.
"It is in the interest of Kosovo that they should have some form of dialogue with Belgrade because...there are so many issues which the two places have in common in economy, trade and transport," Cook said after talks in Prištine with ethnic Albanian and Serb representatives.
Cook warned Kosovo's leaders against offering support to Albanian guerrillas who earlier this year attacked security forces in south Serbia's Preševo Valley and in north Macedonia.
Albanian political leader killed
Ismet Raci, ethnic Albanian mayor of the village of Kline in central Kosovo, died from multiple gunshot wounds on Tuesday morning as he left his home, international police said.
Raci, a member of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) political party, headed by Ibrahim Rugova, was found face down on the floor of his apartment building in central Klina.
The murder was the second of a political leader in Rugova's party in the last few months. Rugova's top advisor, Xhemajl Mustafa, was shot in front of his house in Prištine in November.
Hans Haekkerup, head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), expressed shock at the murder. He said, "I am outraged about this killing."
Don't call it a constitution
The Kosovo Interim Administrative Council (IAC) discussed last-minute attachments to the final draft of the document outlining provisional self-government for the province that would be submitted to the Kosovo Transitional Council for an open-ended review, UNMIK reported.
UNMIK head Hans Haekkerup said he would hold a final round of consultations with IAC members and legal experts to "eliminate and compromise" any disagreement before making a final decision on the document.
What is it called?
Albanian leaders question why the document is not considered a "constitution", as well as if, and how, the province's parliament and president should be named and elected.
Hashim Thaçi, the president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), said, "This document should represent the will of the people of Kosovo on their future after the transitional period. At the same time, the transitional period should be defined as a fixed term, whether it should be three or five years."
Independent Montenegro, independent Kosovo?
Kosovo Albanian leaders said they attentively observed the elections held in Montenegro Sunday and that the results had a positive effect on the region in general.
Hashim Thaçi said, "The developments in the region are reflected in neighboring countries. The citizens have themselves decided about their future, meaning that every positive approach on Montenegro's independence is positively reflected in Kosovo, too."
"Montenegro's tendency towards independence is a logical support for our plans for Kosovo," Vice-President of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Eqrem Kryeziu told KosovaLive news agency.
Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) said, "Our path has started very early and Kosovo's general political process will continue, and, of course, it can be assisted by developments in the region. I think Đukanović will continue his efforts toward the independence of Montenegro."
NATO warns about violence
NATO secretary-general George Robertson urged Kosovo Albanian leaders on Thursday to do more to curb, what he called, unacceptable levels of violence in the province.
Speaking after talks with ethnic-Albanian leaders, who were in Brussels together with Hans Haekkerup, the chief UN administrator in Kosovo, and General Thorstein Skiaker, commander of the NATO-lead Kosovo Force (KFOR), Robertson said the continuing unrest was destroying the chances of a democratic Kosovo.
"It's up to you to lead….The future is yours to create but it is also yours to lose," Robertson said.
A day earlier, NATO told Serbia the time was not yet ripe to allow its authorities to resume control of the final section of the Kosovo buffer zone, imposed by the alliance in June 1999.
And in other news...
- Lieutenant General Thorstein Skiaker, commander of KFOR since 6 April, addressed the media stating, "The political and religious leaders in Kosovo must take responsibility and work towards a peaceful and tolerant society. All sides of the political spectrum must understand the need to accommodate the views and aspirations of others. Peace will only come through dialogue and compromise, and with the maturity to understand the other person's point of view."
- Kosovo Serbs have for the first time joined the province's civilian protection corps, Kosovo television reported Tuesday. Ymri Ilazi, KPC commander in the southeastern region of Gjilan, told RTK that three Serbs had joined the KPC, set up to help reconstruct Kosovo and provide humanitarian assistance. The corps is made up of 5OOO members, mostly former fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
- UNMIK police arrested a German national suspected in a Kosovo bomb blast that killed one Serb man and injured four others, a U.N. source said on Tuesday. Police have not released his name. The local media said he was originally from the former Soviet Union. His defense lawyer, Tome Gashi, said his client denied any wrongdoing during questioning. The suspect will be held for 30 days.
Llazar Semini, 27 April 2001
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