Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Ylber Bajraktari
Student from Kosovo -

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Kosova's Displaced and Imprisoned

Testimony by Ylber Bajraktari

Monday, February 28, 2000

Room B-318, Rayburn House office Building

Mr. Chairmen,
Distinguished Congressmen,

I would like to thank you and the Helsinki Committee for the opportunity to testify on the ongoing
crisis of Albanian prisoners, considered to be one of the most serious threats to the peace process
in Kosova.

-I would like to focus today on some specific cases of the Kosovars who are held hostage in Serbia,

-What the prisoners' issue means to the Kosovars and, especially,

-How this issue impacts Kosova's future.

The latest report of International Committee of Red Cross, that came out on February 24, confirms
frightening figures of 4.400 missing persons from Kosova. According to The Red Cross only 1,400
are known to be held as prisoners in Serbia, while the destiny of the rest of 3,000 remains unknown.

But who are in fact these prisoners?

I would like to focus on some specific names and individuals, and hopefully you can have a better
understanding of the importance and the urgency of their release.

I would like to start with Albin Kurti, a 24 year old Kosovar who was abducted during the NATO
bombing campaign. Mr. Kurti was a former leader of the nonviolent student movement in October
1997; one of the most prominent political activists in Kosova; and most recently a spokesperson for
the political representative of the KLA in Prishtina;

Mr.Kurti was criminally involved and a terrorist as much as I am, testifying here in front of you today.
There is no official confirmation by Belgrade that he is alive, but human rights organizations have
traced him and have determined that he is being held in the prison in Nish, in Serbia. According to
some reports, he has been savagely beaten, and as a result of the beatings has suffered extremely
serious damage to his kidneys.

The second case that I would like to emphasize is the case of Flora Brovina; a prominent
pediatrician and a human rights activist. Mrs. Brovina was actively involved in organizing
Nongovernmental Organizations aimed on offering medical assistant to the displaced Kosovars
during the conflict in 1998. She was also actively involved in helping Kosovars who were denied of
rights to health care because of the discriminatory laws adopted by the Belgrade regime. Mrs.
Brovina, who has a heart condition, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, under charges of
terrorism. The case of Mrs. Brovina shows that Serbia remains the only country in Europe that
considers doctors to be terrorists and helping children as a threat to national security.

The third case is equally important as the first two.

Mr. Ukshin Hoti, one of the most prominent Albanian intellectuals, a Harvard graduate, was arrested
in 1994 and sentenced to five years imprisonment on fabricated charges of conspiring against the
state. Although he was supposed to be released last summer his whereabouts remain unknown. Mr.
Hoti is well respected in Kosova and he enjoys a great support among the Kosovar Albanians, [and
was considered as a possible future leader of Kosova].

The last case that I would like to present to you today distinguished Congressmen, from the endless
list of the Kosovar hostages kept in Serbia, includes Mr. Bardhyl Caushi, the dean of the School of
Law at the University of Prishtina. There have been no reports confirming that Mr.Caushi is still alive,
but his family has reported him being abducted by the Serbian troops during the bombing
campaign. Mr. Caushi has been an active participant of the negotiation training program organized
by the U.S. Institute of Peace.

This case is also important because of the fact that Mr.Caushi has been abducted in the town of
Gjakova, in western Kosova, an area that has been one of the main targets of the abduction
campaign conducted by Mr. Milosevic's troops.

Gjakova is a town with a 95 percent Albanian population and is home to a considerable number of
Kosovar intellectuals and professionals.

This clearly shows that the apprehension of Albanians in Kosova was not random or unplanned; this
was a well-prepared operation and was done as a matter of policy.

But what does all of this mean for the future of Kosova?

The issue of the Albanian prisoners in Serbia continues to keep tensions high in Kosova and to
maintain a high level of radicalization. No Kosovar family can work on building a peaceful and
democratic future while their family members are being held hostage in Serbia.

Therefore, this ongoing crisis is one of the most serious threats to the stability of Kosova.

It seriously undermines the process of democratic institution-building and makes the reconciliation
between Albanians and Serbs practically impossible.

On the other hand, by keeping thousands of Albanians as prisoners, Mr. Milosevic retains another
instrument that he can use to increase tensions. Mr. Milosevic should not be allowed to have in his
hands another weapon with which he can destabilize the region.

In summary, the issue of Albanian prisoners held in Serbia is likely to jeopardize the mission of the
international community in Kosova. It makes lasting peace impossible and shuts the door to any exit
strategy for NATO allies.

This situation makes it extremely necessary for the international community, and the United States
in particular, to take specific measures that will help resolve this issue.

There are several things that can be done.

-Although Serbia is facing international isolation, the United States should put pressure on
Belgrade, by making the case of Albanian prisoners a precondition for any lifting of sanctions.

-The United States should lead the initiative in forming an International Commission for Missing
Persons in Kosova, authorized by the UN Security Council, to conduct a thorough investigation of
Albanian prisoners in Serbia.

-Some of the prisoners are being held in districts that are administered by the Serbian opposition,
especially Nis municipality that is a recipient of the "Energy for Democracy" program. The Serbian
opposition must be pressured to clearly state its position on the issue of Albanian political prisoners
and denounce the Serb regime's policy of holding Albanians captive in Serbia.

-This policy should also be firmly denounced by the leaders of Kosova's Serbs.

This would be a first and important step towards confidence building, a crucial ingredient of
reconciliation.

In the end, please let me emphasize that this crisis needs serious attention and should be a part of
any future dealings with Belgrade. Albanians want their fathers, mothers, brothers, and prominent
figures back, so they could move on with the reconciliation process, a critical element for Kosova's
multiethnic future. A positive step in resolving this issue would also give momentum to the
international presence in Kosova, and would make its long-term success more likely.

Thank You.