Serbian Court annuls 24 Kosovo Albanians' sentences

BELGRADE, Jul 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia's Supreme Court has annulled sentences against 24 Kosovo Albanians over "irregularities" in criminal proceedings and called for a re-trial, a human rights agency said on Friday.

The 24 were arrested in Kosovo in July 1998 and charged with several shooting incidents in Orahovac, in which one Serbian policeman was killed and several others seriously wounded.

They were accused of terrorist activities and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to four years by the Prizren court in March 1999, only days before NATO launched air strikes against Yugoslavia for its repression of majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

All the accused have denied the charges. Four have since been released and have returned to Kosovo.

"Individual responsibility was not established, complicity was not proven," Teki Bokshi, a lawyer with the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center told Reuters.

"We expect that in the repeated trial the sentences will be more lenient," Bokshi said.

The Prizren court has relocated to Pozarevac in Serbia since Yugoslav forces withdrew from the province in June last year following the 78-day NATO air strikes.

The law center said the re-trial was expected to start on July 17 in Pozarevac. It says up to 1,000 Kosovo Albanians are still being held in Serbian prisons.

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