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Report: Rugova Appeals for Freedom

April 16, 1999

BERLIN (AP) _ Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova remains under house arrest and is facing increasing pressure to meet with Serb leaders for their propaganda purposes, a Berlin newspaper reported Friday.

Rugova, a pacifist and the Kosovars’ leading moderate politician, appealed to ``all political parties, writer’s associations and every single citizen″ to push for his freedom, according to the daily Tageszeitung, or Taz.

Taz said one of its reporters was allowed to listen in on a telephone conversation between Rugova and one of his deputies, Hafiz Gagica, who lives in Stuttgart. Rugova made his appeal during the brief conversation, during which the connection was interrupted.

Rugova’s circumstances have been unclear since NATO launched airstrikes against Yugoslavia on March 24. About a week after the attacks started, he appeared on Serb TV shaking hands with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and looking relaxed.

But NATO said the TV footage was doctored to make it look like Rugova was collaborating with the Serbs _ a theory supported by a report this week in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

The Der Spiegel reporter said she was in Rugova’s house in the Kosovo capital of Pristina when Serbs put him under house arrest March 31, and that she stayed with him until April 4.

Her diary about her experience describes Serb police breaking down the doors of Rugova’s house, as well as occupying the surrounding houses in the neighborhood.

A Serb official then told Rugova that he had to travel April 1 to Belgrade, where he was to appear on television saying he was ``in good health and a free man.″

``When Rugova comes back at 6:30 P.M., he is visibly upset,″ the reporter wrote. ``The puzzled world public is shown pictures of a relaxed, smiling Rugova talking with Milosevic.″

On April 2, a Rugova aide called the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, Christopher Hill, seeking help in getting Rugova to the Macedonian capital, Skopje. According to Der Spiegel, Hill said if the Serbs guaranteed Rugova safe passage to the border, he would gladly meet him on the other side.

The next day, Yugoslavia’s deputy prime minister visited Rugova’s house and delivered ``an unmistakable warning,″ the reporter wrote. Nikola Sajnovic said Rugova was free to travel to Macedonia, but he should be aware that he could face attacks from enraged Serbs along the way.

The Taz newspaper report suggested that Rugova’s situation remained unchanged. And on Friday, Rugova again appeared on Serb TV, meeting with Sajnovic and Serb President Milan Milutinovic.