Kosovo province: International effort needed now

Tue, 3 Mar 1998 18:34:11 +0000

News Service 37/98

AI INDEX: EUR 70/11/98
3 MARCH 1998


Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Violence sweeps through Kosovo province:
international effort needed now to prevent further killings and beatings

The shooting of at least 16 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province at the
weekend and the beating of hundreds of ethnic Albanians who demonstrated at
this news raises the spectre of the repeat of the gross human rights
violations in the former Yugoslavia which horrified the world in recent

Amnesty International is calling for the international community,
particularly the European Union and Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to make concerted efforts to see that
allegations are investigated and the developing situation is monitored.

The police and security forces must respect international law
enforcement standards which prohibit the intentional lethal use of firearms
except when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

Yesterday, police broke up peaceful demonstrations in Pri?tina and
other towns, using tear-gas, water cannons and truncheons. Hundreds of
demonstrators, who appeared to have been largely peaceful, were beaten.
Demonstrators were reportedly chased from the streets into offices and

The demonstrations arose in response to the killing of at least 16
ethnic Albanians during the weekend. Although 16 victims have been
acknowledged by the Serbian authorities, ethnic Albanians report the return
of 22 bodies for burial. Although some of the dead may well have been men
engaged in armed attacks on the police, Amnesty International believes
allegations from ethnic Albanian sources that some of the victims were
civilians not involved in the fighting are credible and that it is
absolutely essential that they are thoroughly and properly investigated.
Four police officers were also reportedly killed during the conflict.

Given the tense situation it is important to ensure impartiality of
such investigations and involve representatives of the international
community. Moreover, it is clear that further events in Kosovo province
must be subject to intense international scrutiny.

On 28 February police reportedly clashed with members of the U?K (
Ushtria ?lirimtare e Kosov?s - Kosovo Liberation Army) in the village of
Liko?ane, near Glogovac town. Two police officers and five Albanians were
killed. Serbian sources allege that the police were initially ambushed by
armed ethnic Albanians. Ethnic Albanians claim that at least seven ethnic
Albanians, and possibly many more, were shot in Cirez village near the
town of Srbica the same day. The police allegedly shot some of the victims
from helicopters before moving in with armoured vehicles. The victims
allegedly included a pregnant woman, and four brothers from another family
in the village. Both Cirez and Liko?ane are in the Drenica region, where
U?K activity is strongest, and where police have restricted their movements
in recent months because of earlier clashes with armed ethnic Albanians.

Serbian press and government sources have been alleging that there
have been further attacks on Serbs, including civilians, in some cases
resulting in people being injured.

Amnesty International recognizes that the authorities may have to use
force when responding to violent attacks upon them, but such force must be
only that which is strictly necessary and no more than to the extent
required in the performance of these duties. It is alarmed that the police
have used brutal tactics to break up peaceful demonstrations. The
organization is urgently calling on the Serbian authorities to initiate a
thorough, prompt and impartial investigation into the beatings and
shootings, and to ensure that any police officers found to be responsible
for beating demonstrators or unlawfully killing or wounding people be held
to account for their actions.

An unknown number of people have been arrested in the course of the
fighting and the demonstrations. Amnesty International also fears that
arrested ethnic Albanians, both those alleged to have been involved in
terrorist acts, and those involved in the demonstrations, will be subject
to torture and ill-treatment in detention as has happened so frequently in
the province. It is urging the Serbian authorities to ensure that the
defendants are protected, particularly by ensuring that they be given full
access to defence lawyers, family and, where necessary, medical treatment.
The organization also fears that any eventual trials of the detainees will
also be grossly unfair.

Background Information

In July 1990 the Serbian parliament suspended the Kosovo parliament and
government after ethnic Albanian deputies of the Kosovo parliament declared
Kosovo independent of the Republic of Serbia. Since then, the majority of
ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province (where they constitute around 90 per
cent of the population) refuse to recognize Serbia?s authority in the
province and a number of "parallel" institutions have been established by
ethnic Albanians.

The leaders of the main ethnic Albanian parties in Kosovo province
have advocated the province?s secession by peaceful means only. However
since 1996 violent attacks on Serbian police and Serbs or Albanians
associated with the authorities have occurred with increasing frequency.
Responsibility for many of these incidents has been claimed by the
clandestine organization, the U?K. Since certain clashes with the U?K in
late November 1997 police have reportedly restricted their movements in
certain parts of the province, which have been dubbed the ?liberated
territory? by ethnic Albanians. The new clashes may herald police
operations to reestablish their control in these areas.