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Kosovo Albanian Activist Freed

November 1, 2000

MERDARE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Kissing the soil of her Kosovo three times, a jubilant Flora Brovina returned home Wednesday to the cheers of fellow ethnic Albanians after 18 months in prison.

``I’m overcome with emotion,″ the activist said after crossing the provincial boundary to Kosovo by foot.

But Brovina _ jailed on terrorism charges during former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s regime _ said her fight wasn’t finished.

``What I know is that the war is over but until the moment that all people who are in Serbian jails are released, I cannot see freedom,″ she said.

Brovina, a pediatrician, took the risk of remaining in Pristina to care for women and children during the worst fighting of the Kosovo conflict.

Two hours after she delivered a baby, eight plainclothes policemen grabbed her from the doorstep of her apartment building and took her into custody a month after the start of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999.

Sentenced to 12 years in prison, Brovina became stirring symbol of Yugoslav oppression for many. On President Vojislav Kostunia’s orders Wednesday, she was released from the prison in Pozarevac in central Serbia and driven to Kosovo.

``I’m overcome with emotion,″ she said as her son, Uranik Begu, presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

Begu said his thoughts were with other ethnic Albanians whose parents are still ``held hostage″ in Serbia. ``I hope all of them will be released very soon so others can be in my shoes.″

Brovina said she was told that all ethnic Albanian and Serb political prisoners would be freed as soon as the Yugoslav parliament passes an amnesty bill in about 10 days.

Eleven other ethnic Albanians also were freed Wednesday, Natasa Kandic, head of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center, told the Beta news agency.

Brovina, 50, was convicted Dec. 9 of terrorism for allegedly organizing the production of sweaters and masks for members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. She was also accused of providing the rebels with food, clothes and shoes.

In June, Serbia’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial.

Brovina, who headed a group that ran an orphanage and organized peace marches, testified that her League of Albanian Women simply provided relief aid to women and children in war-torn areas.

She denied the allegations of terrorism and links to the KLA, whose uprising against Milosevic prompted the Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians in February 1998.

Western governments and human rights organizations had long called for the release of Brovina and other Kosovo Albanians. Kostunica, who took office Oct. 7, has been making overtures to the West in search of aid.

Bernard Kouchner, the chief U.N. administrator for Kosovo, congratulated Kostunica for taking a ``crucial step″ toward healing by releasing imprisoned Kosovo Albanians.

``I urge him to take further action and release all Kosovo Albanian political prisoners who remain in Serbia,″ he said. ``That would be justice. That would be a major stride toward a meaningful dialogue and a lasting peace.″

The International Committee of the Red Cross recorded 1,922 ethnic Albanian detainees throughout Serbia last July. About half have since been released.

The issue of prisoners and the missing is one major hurdle the United Nations faces in promoting talks about Kosovo’s future between the Yugoslav government and ethnic Albanian residents.

In the southwestern Kosovo town of Djakovica, dozens of ethnic Albanians seeking information about missing friends and relatives stormed out of a meeting with a Swedish U.N. envoy Wednesday after he urged them to cooperate with the Serbs.

The envoy, Henrik Amneus, said Belgrade’s new pro-democracy leadership is ready to meet with ethnic Albanians leaders.

``Don’t you tell us how democratic Serbia has become and what a democrat Kostunica is,″ one of the ethnic Albanians, Istres Asllani, shouted before storming out.

``We know how democratic they are,″ he said. ``All the people who were killed and are still missing are the proof.″

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