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Crisis 1999
News Archive 1999

Kosovo Human Rights Flash #49

Concern about fate of detained Kosovar Albanian Men

Freed detainees describe mistreatment by Serb forces

(New York, June 18, 1999) Two emaciated Kosovar Albanian men described their time in a Serb prison to a Human Rights Watch researcher in Prizren, Kosovo. The two men were among a group of thirteen detainees freed by German KFOR troops on Sunday, June 13 -- the day KFOR entered the region. They stated that over the past month and a half more than two hundred other detainees had been taken away from the prison in which they were held by Serb security forces and they feared they had been taken to Serbia. The two men, whose heads were shaved, also described beatings and other mistreatment meted out by the Serb forces detaining them. They, along with eleven other detainees, were later rescued from captivity by Major Volker Shafer, a German KFOR officer based in Prizren.

The detainees reported that on the morning of June 13, Serb forces placed them in a truck with their hands tied. At the time, they said they had no idea that the armed conflict between Yugoslavia and NATO was over and did not know where they were being taken. "We thought they were taking us somewhere to execute us," said one. Major Shafer told Human Rights Watch that near noon on June 13, some ethnic Albanians informed him that a nearby yellow truck held a group of Albanian detainees. He ordered the Serb security forces to open the truck and, upon seeing the detainees, ordered them released. Major Shafer speculated to Human Rights Watch that the Serb forces had wanted to keep the men as hostages during their return to Serbia.

The former detainees, interviewed separately, both stated that they had been picked up from their homes by Serb state security police and accused of assisting the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). One of the men, Haki Cunaj, age 63, was arrested on March 19 in the early morning; the other, Abdyram Spahiu, age 43, was arrested on the afternoon of April 10. Both denied involvement in KLA activities.

The detainees stated that two days before their release by the German troops a group of approximately eighty detainees was taken away from the prison in two buses, and that on or around April 30, roughly 140 other detainees had been taken away. Neither man knew with any certainty where the detainees were taken, as the Serb forces did not inform the detainees of their intentions. However, they said that everyone held in the prison believed that the detainees had been taken to Serbia. Neither man had seen or heard from any of the transferred detainees since being released.

The former detainees described suffering beatings and other abuse at the hands of Serb forces. Spahiu stated:

They tortured me for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The first thing they did to me when I arrived was beat me using rubber police batons. They hit me on the palms of my hands and in my groin.

Spahiu also claimed that the Serb guards, who were often drunk, made inmates sing Serbian songs.

Conditions in the prison were poor. The inmates received insufficient food, no exercise, and some of them had to sleep on the concrete floor. Describing the single positive element of his detention, Spahiu did state that he was appointed a lawyer to defend him, but that he was never brought before a judge.

The possibility that Kosovar Albanian detainees have been shipped out of Kosovo to Serbia, as these former detainees suggest, is an alarming one. The question is not only a pressing one for the families of detainees who were held in Prizren, it has also been raised by numerous ethnic Albanians in the city of Djakovica (Gjakove). While the precise number of missing Albanian men from Djakovica has yet to be determined, it appears to be sizeable. Kosovar Albanians in Djakovica have given Human Rights Watch estimates ranging from hundreds to well over a thousand missing men who they fear may be detained in Serbia. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of these detainees and calls on the Serbian Ministry of Justice to ensure that they are treated according to international human rights standards and to provide international monitors immediate access to these detainees.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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