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UN reports return of all Kosovo Albanians held in Serbian prisons

UN reports return of all Kosovo Albanians held in Serbian prisons

SRSG Steiner briefing the press today in Kosovo
All Kosovo Albanians detained in Serbian prisons have now been returned to Kosovo, the United Nations Interim Administration in the province (UNMIK) announced today.

Welcoming the development, UNMIK head Michael Steiner said the return “brings to closure a painful legacy of the war.”

The returned group included the last known Kosovo Albanian prisoners held in Serbia since June 1999 when Yugoslav forces moved approximately 2,000 detainees from Kosovo to other facilities in Serbia following NATO air strikes.

Mr. Steiner said he was “extremely happy” that after highly intensive talks in Belgrade UNMIK was able to fulfill one of its longstanding priorities.

According to UNMIK, since the start of the UN Mission most of the Kosovo Albanian detainees had either been amnestied or released following the expiry of sentences or after the charges against them were dropped. In November 2001, Yugoslavia and Serbia committed themselves to returning all remaining detainees.

Earlier this month, Belgrade officials provided case files on the detainees to UNMIK. International judges have been reviewing those files for the Mission to determine whether detainees were found guilty of committing internationally recognized crimes, and whether they were convicted in legally acceptable trials.

Although that review process is not quite complete, Mr. Steiner said that on Wednesday he would order the release of all those whose convictions had been deemed to be invalid by UNMIK justice officials. Prisoners whose convictions are held to be valid will serve out their sentences in Kosovo.