UNHCR seeks Serb release of Kosovo Albanians

GENEVA, Jun 18, 2000 -- (Reuters) The UN refugee agency said on Friday it had asked Serb authorities to release some detained Kosovo Albanians, including prominent activist Flora Brovina, as a "humanitarian gesture".

Dennis McNamara, UNHCR's top envoy in Kosovo, said that Kosovo Albanians would welcome the symbolic release of elderly, females and youths held by Belgrade since the conflict.

Kosovo Albanians bring up the politically-charged issue of detainees and missing persons whenever the refugee agency discusses the return of minority Serbs to Kosovo, he told a news briefing in Geneva.

Brovina, a pediatrician, poet and humanitarian worker, was sentenced last year to 12 years in jail for helping Kosovo Albanian guerrillas fighting Serbian security forces. Her lawyer was quoted as saying 10 days ago that Serbia's supreme court had annulled the lower court ruling and had called for a retrial.

McNamara said he had raised the issue of a humanitarian release with the Serbian Justice Minister in talks on May 20. He hoped for progress when he returns to Belgrade in late June.

"It was essentially a humanitarian appeal for a humanitarian gesture by the Belgrade authorities to release special cases from detention as a gesture towards the Kosovar community, to help the process of co-existence.

"We have said as an example, someone like Flora Brovina. This case arouses such emotion in the Albanian community that it only aggravates the situation," he said.

McNamara, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), added: "We suggested the elderly people, the minors and the women whom we had identified from ICRC records as an example of those who might be released."

McNamara said Serbia's Justice Minister had told him since the talks that Belgrade had released 45 Kosovo detainees and planned to release another 45 by the end of June. This would bring the number of detainees released since June 1999 to more than 800. ICRC figures show some 1,200 remain in detention.

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