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Rule of Law Has Eroded in Kosovo

November 11, 1998

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A lawyer is jailed and beaten for requesting access to files on his client. People are kidnapped, ``sentenced,″ and sometimes executed by separatist guerrillas.

In Kosovo, both Serbs and Albanians are victims _ not only of war, but of a legal system gone haywire.

Like other pillars of Kosovo society, the rule of law has been eroded by the bloodshed and hatred generated in the conflict between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s Serb forces and ethnic Albanians fighting for independence for the predominantly Albanian province.

Albanians complain of relatives held by Serb authorities for months of ``investigative custody″ without charges being filed. And the Red Cross is investigating dozens of cases of Serbs reportedly held by separatists.

The ethnic Albanian Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms says about 1,800 Kosovo Albanians are in pretrial detention, facing long periods in prison without trial and with little access to lawyers.

There are fewer Serbs detained by Albanians _ the number is estimated at a little over 100. But their fate is perhaps even more chilling.

Kidnapped by the Kosovo Liberation Army, the lucky ones reappear after months of being held in isolation. Others go missing for good or turn up as decomposing bodies on a roadside.

Detentions for what amount to political reasons put both sides afoul of the Oct. 12 agreement intended to halt Kosovo’s eight-month war.

Additionally, under the agreement to end bloodshed in Kosovo, the Red Cross is supposed to have access to detained people. But that isn’t happening either.

The Red Cross says it has been allowed to visit those sentenced by Yugoslav courts but not those in pretrial custody.

The Serbs claim that those detained are suspected terrorists. But ethnic Albanians, particularly young or middle-aged men, say any encounter with Serb police, such as a routine stop at a checkpoint, can bring detention.

``They are just saying you are young and you are Albanian, you are a terrorist,″ complained Skandar Ferizi, 42, in the western village of Kodralji.

Albanian human rights activists say arrest is only the start of the nightmare. In the past year, five ethnic Albanians have died while in Serb police custody.

Ismet Berdynaj, project coordinator of the Pristina-based Council, says most detainees are tortured into making false confessions. And Pristina lawyer Destan Rukiqi described Serb prisons as ``concentration camps.″

Rukiqi claims to have personally experienced the dark side of the Serb legal system. In June, Rukiqi says, he was thrown into prison and badly beaten after complaining to Judge Danica Marinkovic when she refused to allow him to see paperwork relating to his client’s case.

His client, 32-year-old Cen Dugolli, accused of terrorist activity, died in custody while Rukiqi was in jail.

Marinkovic refused an interview request.

Amanda Williamson of the Red Cross said the organization was visiting about 160 people already sentenced by Yugoslav authorities and was demanding complete figures on detainees and full access to them.

She also said the organization was looking into more than 100 cases of people reportedly held by the guerrilla KLA, but had made little progress so far.

``We still have problems to find any information, let alone access, on Serbs who’ve been abducted,″ Williamson said.

Among those the Red Cross is trying to see are two Serb journalists of the Tanjug state news agency. On Nov. 1, the KLA said it ``sentenced″ the two to 60 days’ imprisonment for violating rules set by the group.

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