HRW Kosovo protest
Tue, 03 Mar 98 17:49:15 -0500

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Ave. 34th floor
NY, NY. 10118
Telephone: 212-216-1270
Facsimile: 212-736-1300


For further information contact:
In New York, Holly Cartner (212) 216-1277
In Brussels, Jean-Paul Marthoz, (322) 732-2009

Human Rights Watch Condemns Violence by Security Forces in Kosovo
Calls on International Community to Investigate

(New York - March 3, 1998) Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned
by credible allegations from local human rights organizations and
the international media that the Serbian security forces
committed gross abuses against the civilian population in
military actions that took place from February 28 to March 1 in
Kosovo. As many as twelve people may have been summarily
executed. We urge the U.S. government, European Union and OSCE
to coordinate and intensify diplomatic pressure on the Yugoslav
authorities to avert an escalation of violence, and to undertake
an immediate investigation to determine the nature of the

The violence took place over the weekend February 28-March 1
in the Drenica region of Kosovo. According to media reports, two
Serbian policemen were killed in an ambush by ethnic Albanians on
Friday, February 27, in Likosane village near Glogovac. The next
day, Serbian security forces with armored vehicles and attack
helicopters swept through the region, sealing off between seven
and ten ethnic Albanian villages. The security forces conducted
house to house raids, ostensibly looking for members of the
Kosova Liberation Army, a shadowy ethnic Albanian military
organization that has taken credit for a series of violent
attacks against Serbian authorities in Kosovo over the past year.

Local human rights groups, Albanian and international media
reported that the security forces used indiscriminate force
against civilians, especially in the villages of Cirez and
Likosane. Witnesses told reporters that helicopters and APCs
sprayed village rooftops with gunfire before security forces
entered the village on foot, firing indiscriminately into private
homes, although reports also indicate that the police were coming
under fire from unidentified individuals, possibly from the
private homes. Sixteen ethnic Albanians were killed, according
to the Serbian authorities, although Albanian media outlets say
the number may be as high as thirty. Foreign journalists have
seen the bodies of six victims, including a pregnant woman, Rukia
Nebihi, who had been shot in the face, and four brothers from the
Sejdiu family, two of whom had been shot in the back.

According to the Prishtina-based Council for the Defense of
Human Rights and Freedoms, ten members of the Ahmeti family and
two of their guests, Behram Fazliu and Shaban Muja, were killed
by Serbian security forces after having been detained, although
this has not been independently confirmed. According to the
Serbian government, the police confiscated a large amount of
weapons and arrested a number of people, although their
whereabouts and the charges against them are currently unknown.
Four Serbian policemen were also killed during the action.

Human Rights Watch recognizes that the authorities may have to
use force when confronted with an armed attack, but this force
may only be applied to the extent necessary to perform their
duties. Even if the hostilities in Kosovo rise to the level of
an internal armed conflict, international humanitarian law
clearly protects civilians and other individuals who are not
taking part in the hostilities, including those who have been
taken into detention. Human Rights Watch has not conducted an
on-site investigation, but credible reports suggest that the Serb
security forces may have either indiscriminately attacked
civilian groups or even targeted individuals not involved in the
fighting. Human Rights Watch is especially concerned that the
ten members of the Ahmeti family and their two guests may have
been killed by extrajudicial execution.

On March 2, a large crowd of ethnic Albanians [estimates range
from 30,000-100,000 people] gathered at 10:00 a.m. in the center
of Kosovo's capital, Prishtina, for a one-hour peaceful
demonstration against the violence in Drenica. At 10:55 a.m.,
the police intervened with tear gas and water cannons, and began
to beat the protesters. Local media report that at least two
hundred people have sought medical attention for injuries
sustained at the hands of the police, although the total number
is still undetermined. A number of demonstrators were run over
by police APCs, and at least four people were injured when a
civilian car rammed into the crowds.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that the police beat a number
of ethnic Albanian journalists, including Veton Surroi,
editor-in-chief of the daily Koha Ditore, Ibrahim Osmani,
journalist of AFP and the Voice of America, Avni Spahiu,
editor-in-chief of the daily Bujku, Agron Bajrami, a journalist
at Koha Ditore, and Sherif Kunjufca, a journalist with Albanian
Television. Police forces broke into the offices of Koha Ditore
and beat people who had taken refuge inside. Police officers
forced photographer Fatos Berisha to jump from a second story
window. Police also broke into the offices of the daily Bujku.

Human Rights Watch unequivocally condemns the use of force in
Prishtina on March 2 against those who had gathered peacefully to
express discontent with the government's abusive and violent
policies in Kosovo. Human Rights Watch is also deeply concerned
by credible allegations that the security forces in Drenica may
have targeted innocent civilians and performed extrajudicial

Human Rights Watch calls on the Yugoslav government to allow
international observers into the Drenica region to determine the
nature of the violations of international human rights and
humanitarian law. The government should also make public the
names of all individuals who have been taken into custody and
provide information about the charges made against them. Based
on the Serbian police's use of torture against detainees in the
past, there is reason to fear that those in detention may be
subjected to physical abuse.

Human Rights Watch urges the international community to
undertake an immediate investigation into the Drenica events. In
addition, Kosovo should be a primary focus of the newly-appointed
Special Representative of the OSCE to the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia, Felipe Gonzales.