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UN official welcomes Kosovar Albanians freed from Serbian jails

UN official welcomes Kosovar Albanians freed from Serbian jails

After nearly two years serving time in Serbian jails, over 100 Kosovar Albanians arrived in Kosovo today, where they were welcomed by the top United Nations official in the area, who called for the return of all others still in detention.

The head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Hans Haekkerup, welcomed the 143 former prisoners as they arrived in Merdare on a fleet of three crowded buses with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Mr. Haekkerup told the freed detainees that as a father and husband, he shared with their families the wealth of joy and emotions in meeting them.

The former prisoners were collectively known as the "Gjakovë Group" for the city where they were arrested in May 1999 on suspicion of terrorism and sentenced to jail terms varying between 7 and 13 years. On Monday, Serbia's Supreme Court threw out the convictions against the prisoners and ordered their immediate release.

In an address today to the Kosovo Transitional Council, Mr. Haekkerup stressed that all Kosovars serving in Serbian jails should be returned to Kosovo, including those who did not fall within the scope of the amnesty law adopted by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

The Special Representative stressed that where necessary, the detainees should have their cases processed through a judicial review in Kosovo conducted under UNMIK's supervision, with due respect for international human rights standards.

Mr. Haekkerup also emphasized the need for further efforts to secure the return of those still being held. "We should continue our dialogue with the FRY authorities on other detainees as well as the missing," he said.