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Kosovo Refugees Tell of Beatings

June 5, 1999

KUKES, Albania (AP) _ As NATO and Yugoslav generals discussed the terms of a withdrawal from Kosovo, more refugees straggled across the border into Albania on Saturday telling of brutal beatings by Serb police.

The refugees, 86 men from two villages, crossed into Albania after being released earlier in the day from a prison where they had been held for four days for alleged links to Kosovo guerrillas.

Bedri Selmani said he and many of the others were beaten with wooden staves and kicked by Serb police as they walked toward Albania. Some of the refugees had to be helped across the border, and were treated by medical workers for severe bruises.

Selmani, 42, said he and his 20-year-old son were set upon by police demanding money, but their wallets had already been emptied at the prison.

Selmani and other refugees said the men, aged 16 to 60, had been taken from the villages of Shtitarice and Dolak, northwest of the Kosovo capital of Pristina, to the Smrekovnice prison.

More than 2,000 military-age men have in recent weeks been questioned at the prison, northwest of Pristina, for alleged ties with the Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas, then ordered out of the country.

The latest group to reach Albania had been arrested June 2 in an area of heavy fighting between the KLA and Serb units. The refugees said as many as 90 percent of the houses in the area had been torched by the Serbs, and food was scarce.

Remzi Meholli, 30, a medical student from Shtitarice, said Serb shelling had recently killed and wounded large numbers of residents and displaced people from the two villages. He claimed the gunners had targeted civilians several times.

``We had no medicine. We could only look at the wounded,″ Meholli said. He said the two villages remained surrounded by the Serb army.

Selmani said prison guards showed him a photograph of a relative in a KLA uniform and asked how many other relatives he had in the guerrilla group. When he acknowledged the relative in the photograph, the guards struck him with wooden sticks, he said.

Meholli said the men were made to sign vague confessions about being terrorists and were stripped of identity documents. All the men were released after four days.

The interrogations at Smrekovnice have puzzled observers because the questioning apparently elicits little intelligence about the KLA and requires considerable Serb resources.

Although beatings are reportedly routine, there have been no confirmed reports of executions at the prison, located near the town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo.

Asked if the men would attempt to return home in view of the peace agreement, Selmani echoed many refugees’ sentiments.

``We are not going to believe Milosevic. If we returned, the Serb police would kill us.″

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