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Serb POWs Said To Be Freed Soon

May 16, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The two Serb soldiers held as prisoners of war by U.S. military authorities in Germany will be released, possibly on Monday, a senior Pentagon official said Sunday.

``They are going to be released,″ the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``We’re just working out the details now.″

Defense Secretary William Cohen strongly hinted a few weeks ago that there was a good possibility the prisoners would be released, but there has been little word on their fate since then.

He said during a Pentagon news conference last week that he had not gotten around to taking final action on the POW issue.

The pending release of the Serb soldiers comes after the release earlier this month of three U.S. Army soldiers captured along the Kosovo-Macedonia border, but there was no indication of any linkage between the two releases.

The two Serbs were turned over the U.S. military authorities in Albania by the Kosovo Liberation Army. They were flown from Albania to Germany where they have been visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in accordance with the Geneva Convention on treatment of POWs.

U.S. officials have frequently contrasted their strict compliance with the Geneva Convention with the actions of Yugoslav authorities who held the three U.S. soldiers as POWs for 32 days in Serbia. The Americans were denied access to Red Cross officials for weeks and were not allowed to communicate with their families.

The Pentagon official did not explain the timing of the decision to release the two Serbs, both of whom are enlisted soldiers.

The three U.S. prisoners _ Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Mich.; and Spec. Steven M. Gonzales, 21, of Huntsville, Texas _ have since returned to their families in the United States after being turned over to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who escorted them to U.S. military authorities in Germany.

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