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The Plight’s of Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned Detailed by Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

WASHINGTON – “We know all too well that few efforts to build democratic and tolerant societies in Kosovo or anywhere in the region can succeed without addressing the role of Slobodan Milosevic and the need for democratic change in Serbia itself. Until that occurs, the international community will continue to be challenged in the region,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) at today’s hearing “Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned” held by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Commissioner Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) also attended.

Testifying before the Commission were: Ambassador John Menzies, Deputy Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo Implementation, U.S. Department of State; Bill Frelick, Director of Policy, U.S. Committee for Refugees; His Grace Artemije, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Prizren and Raska; Andrzej Mirga, Chairman, Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Council, and Co-Chair, Specialists Group on the Roma of the Council of Europe; Susan Blaustein, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group; and Ylber Bajraktari, a political analyst from Kosovo.

Smith emphasized that during this time of attempted reconciliation, “it is particularly important that we are alert around the time of important anniversaries, such as the anniversary of the NATO bombing that is forthcoming.” He also said that “we must keep our focus on potential Hot Spots that might devolve into another Kosovo, areas such as southern Serbia or Montenegro. And we must make every effort to remember the forgotten and vulnerable in Kosovo—the Roma, Conscientious Objectors, Muslim Slavs and those Albanians accused by extremists to have been collaborators with the Serbian regime.”

Smith called upon the Clinton Administration to raise the public level of attention to the status of Albanian prisoners of conscience in Serbia and to call upon the Serbian regime to comply with international law and release them.

Menzies, speaking for the Clinton Administration, said that “gradually, peace is taking hold, and the resolution of the questions posed by the displaced and imprisoned are important factors in building that peace. The key to the return of all citizens of Kosovo is security.”

However, Menzies said, “The continued detention of Albanians in Serbia remains a tragic and acutely vexing issue for the international community. Given our lack of diplomatic relations with Belgrade, it is difficult for the U.S. Government to directly pressure the Milosevic regime on this issue.”

Bishop Artemije recommended, “KFOR should be more robust in suppressing violence, organized crime and should more effectively protect the non-Albanian population from extremists. This is required by the U.N. resolution [1244]. More international police should be brought to Kosovo. Finally, the international community, especially the U.S., should make clear to Kosovo Albanian leaders, that they cannot create an ethnically cleansed state under the protectorate of western democratic governments.”

Andrzej Mirga commented, “The most devastating effect on minds and feelings of those belonging to minorities is the fact that the same atrocities which were associated with Serbs during the conflict are taking place now in the presence of international forces.…Until civil society, rule of law, and moderation are achieved it is hard to believe that these minorities will feel secure.”

Susan Blaustein noted, “It was U.S. officials in Washington who allowed the issue of the Albanian prisoners to be dropped from the negotiating table.…Nevertheless,…the pragmatic omission of the prisoner issue from the military-technical agreement that brought the conflict to a much-desired close does not in any way relieve the parties to that conflict of the obligation to release, immediately upon the cessation of hostilities, all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians detained in the course of armed conflict. This obligation is incumbent upon all signatories to the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the accompanying Protocol II of 1978…”

Ylber Bajraktari humanized the numbers by citing cases, such as: 24-year-old Albin Kurti, a former leader of the non-violent student movement; Flora Brovina, a prominent pediatrician and human rights activist; Ukshin Hoti, a Harvard graduate considered by some to be a possible future leader of Kosovo; and, Bardhyl Caushi, Dean of the School of Law, University of Pristina.

Frelick recommended, “The U.S. Government and other donors should direct bilateral funding to international nongovernmental organizations to develop alternative networks to deliver humanitarian assistance in Serbia. This will not only establish alternative networks for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, thus breaking the Yugoslav Red Cross’ monopoly and introducing healthy competition that will hopefully make the YRC more accountable as well, but will also encourage the development of an active and vibrant local NGO sector in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).” egarding resettlement, Frelick said, “The United States should institute refugee processing out of Podgorica, Montenegro; President Clinton should issue a presidential determination permitting the United States to consider admitting certain categories of internally displaced persons in the FRY as refugees for purposes of the U.S. resettlement program; and, the following vulnerable groups such as:

a) Roma and Hashkalija (gypsies) who fled from Kosovo to Serbia proper, Montenegro, or Macedonia would have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Kosovo.

b) Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo who fled from Kosovo to Serbia proper or Montenegro because of threats or persecution at the hands of ethnic Albanian nationalists who accuse them of collaborating with the Serbian regime ruling Kosovo until June 1999 and who have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Kosovo. A relatively small number of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo. c) Serbian conscientious objectors. d) Gorani, Slavic Muslims who fled Kosovo into Serbia proper or Montenegro. e) The refugees who continue to live in collective centers in Kosovo. f) Members of Albanian-Serbian mixed marriages. g) Ethnic Albanians from Serbia proper (mostly Presevo) who have fled into Macedonia. h) Other ethnic and religious minorities from Kosovo.”

Approximately two years ago, a decade of severe repression and lingering ethnic tensions in Kosovo erupted into full-scale violence, leading eventually to NATO intervention in early 1999 and UN administration immediately thereafter.

The conflict in Kosovo was ostensibly between the Serbian and Yugoslav forces controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic—since indicted for war crimes—on the one hand, and the Kosovo Liberation Army which arose from more militant segments of Kosovo’s Albanian majority on the other.

As with previous phases of the Yugoslav conflict, however, the primary victims have largely been innocent civilians. Over one million ethnic Albanians were displaced during the conflict, as well as over 100,000 Serbs and tens of thousands of Roma in the aftermath of the international community’s intervention. Senseless atrocities were frequently committed throughout this process of forced migration.

Many remain unable to return, and the recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica demonstrates the continued volatility of the current situation. Meanwhile, a large number of Kosovar Albanians, removed from the region while it was still under Serbian control, languish in Serbian prisons to this day.

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