Kouchner orders continued detention of Kosovo murder suspect

PRISTINA, Aug 25, 2000 -- (AFP) Bernard Kouchner, Kosovo's UN administrator, has ordered that a triple murder suspect remain in jail for a further 30 days despite fierce international criticism, a UN spokeswoman told AFP Thursday.

Kouchner first ordered on July 28 that Afrim Zeqiri be detained in a military base for 30 days despite a ruling by an international judge that there was insufficient evidence to mount a case against him.

The detention has now been extended for a further 30 days on Kouchner's orders despite criticism from legal rights groups who have branded the decision "manifestly illegal," UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel said.

Zeqiri, an ethnic Albanian, was arrested on suspicion of shooting dead three Serbs, including a four-year-old child, on May 28 this year in what appeared to be a crime motivated by ethnic hatred.

A Serbian witness to the shooting identified Zeqiri as the gunman and his car was seen leaving the scene. Ethnic Albanian witnesses later came forward to confirm his alibi, that he was elsewhere drinking coffee at the time of the attack, police sources told AFP.

An ethnic Albanian prosecutor decided in July that there was no credible case to be made against Zeqiri and a UN-appointed Finnish judge ruled that he should be released.

But before the court's order could come into effect Kouchner stepped in and ordered that Zeqiri continue to be detained "for security reasons" in Camp Bondsteel, the main camp for US peacekeepers attached the KFOR multinational force.

In a letter dated August 3 and obtained by AFP, European Magistrates for Democracy and Liberties, which says it represents many thousands of lawyers across the continent, conveyed to Kouchner its "extreme concern" over the decision.

His decision to annul a judicial order to free Zeqiri could "ruin the credibility of Kosovo justice" and was "manifestly illegal", the letter said. It concluded by demanding the suspect's immediate release.

Five days later a French magistrate's union took up the cudgels and demanded Zeqiri's immediate release.

But the UN administration in Kosovo stuck to its guns, declaring that Kouchner's authority under UN Security Council resolution 1244 gave him the right to issue a detention order in the name of ensuring security in the violent, ethnically divided province.

Original article