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Kosovo Albanian Activist Freed

November 1, 2000

MERDARE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Flora Brovina, an ethnic Albanian activist who became a symbol of resistance to Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, was freed from prison Wednesday by Yugoslavia’s new president and returned to a hero’s welcome in Kosovo.

Brovina was welcomed at the Kosovo boundary crossing by hundreds of cheering well-wishers and her son, who handed her a bouquet of flowers. She kissed the ground three times.

``I’m sorry that I am coming in the dark so I won’t be able to see Kosovo tonight,″ Brovina said. ``What I know is that the war is over, but until the moment that all the people arrested who are in Serbian jails are released I cannot see freedom.″

Brovina, who had been serving a 12-year term for terrorism, left prison in Pozarevac on Wednesday afternoon after new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica ordered her release. Eleven other ethnic Albanian prisoners were also released, Natasa Kandic, the head of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center, told the Beta news agency.

``Justice has been served,″ lawyer Branko Stanic told reporters at the prison gate as Brovina was driven away.

The release appeared to be further fallout from the ouster of Milosevic and the rise of Kostunica’s pro-democracy forces. Western observers have long called for the release of Brovina and other Kosovo Albanian prisoners in Yugoslavia, and Kostunica has been making overtures to the West. He recently reapplied for admission to the United Nations and his country is desperately in need of Western aid.

``He is a reasonable man, a legalist, and it was clear to him that she was innocent. We thank him,″ Stanic said.

Brovina, a 50-year-old pediatrician and women’s rights activist, was among hundreds of ethnic Albanians held in Serb jails since the Kosovo conflict, which began when Milosevic sent troops into the province to crush separatist sentiment there. Her detention became a rallying point for people in Kosovo, where the majority of the population is ethnic Albanian and many people want independence from Yugoslavia.

In Kosovo, Brovina headed a group called the League of Albanian Women. Her activities included running an orphanage, organizing peace marches and treating women and children injured in fighting between Yugoslav police and ethnic Albanian rebels. She was also an outspoken critic of the Milosevic regime.

Last year, when Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo inspired the NATO bombing campaign here, Brovina stayed the province. She refused to leave despite the threat of arrest by Serb police, who were rounding up people believed to have ties to the Kosovo Liberation Army, an ethnic Albanian rebel group.

She delivered a baby just two hours before eight plainclothes policemen snatched her from the threshold of her apartment building in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.

Just before Western peacekeeping forces moved into the province in June 1999, Yugoslav authorities transferred her and more than 1,000 other ethnic Albanian prisoners to jails elsewhere in Serbia, Yugoslavia’s main republic.

Brovina was accused of fomenting terrorism by allegedly organizing, among other things, the making of sweaters and masks for members of the KLA. She was also accused of providing the rebels with food and clothes.

During her trial, she denied the terrorism allegations and said her League of Albanian Women provided aid to women and children. The U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch and other international organizations pushed for her release.

Brovina was convicted Dec. 9 and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

In June, Serbia’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial. But the proceeding was postponed until Nov. 16.

On Wednesday, Brovina was escorted out of the prison by her lawyers, Red Cross officials, the U.N. human rights representative in Belgrade and officials from nongovernment human rights groups.

The crowd that welcomed Brovina to Kosovo carried banners reading ``Welcome Back.″ Among the throng were children from the orphanage her organization ran.

``I’m thinking about all those who have parents who are being held hostage in Serbia,″ Brovina’s son, Uranik Begu, said as he waited for his mother. ``I hope all of them will be released very soon so others can be in my shoes.″

As of July, the Red Cross had recorded 1,922 ethnic Albanian detainees throughout Serbia. About half have since been released. Hopes for more releases have risen with Milosevic’s ouster last month and his replacement by Kostunica.

The release of prisoners and an accounting of the missing is one of the major hurdles facing U.N. efforts to promote talks about Kosovo’s future between the Yugoslav government and ethnic Albanian residents.

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