From: BPT_BG@ZAMIR-BG.ztn.apc.org (Balkan Peace Team) Sender: BALKAN-PEACE-TEAM@BIONIC.zerberus.de (Foerderver. Balkan Peace Team) Date: Fri, 10 Oct 1997 10:27:00 +0100 ## Message from 05.10.97 forwarded by: BPT Int'l, Minden ## Orginated in: BALKAN-PEACE-TEAM@BION164.zerberus.de ## Original author: BPT_BG@ZAMIR-BG.ztn.apc.orgOn October 1, 1997, at 10:30 a.m., the (Albanian) Independent Students' Union of the University of Prishtina organized a peaceful protest in Prishtina and several other cities around Kosov@. The official goal of the protest was to regain access to the state university buildings, which have been used only by Serbs since 1991.
Foreign diplomats and LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova put pressure on the Students' Union not to protest during the campaign for the first round of Serbian parliamentary and presidential elections, held on September 21. They then decided to postpone the action until the beginning of the academic school year, which starts October 1, also giving themselves more time to organize. After it became clear that Serbian presidential elections would go into a second round, similar pressure was again put on the Students' Union to postpone until after October 5. Initially some faculties were split over whether to postpone again, but the fraction favoring October 1 was stronger and eventually most professors and the deans of all the faculties joined in organizing the protests.
The Students' Union also received statements of support from the Women in Black in Belgrade, the Students' Political Club, and the Belgrade Circle.
The police in Prishtina did not give permission for the students to protest, but had said publicly that they would not use force if the Albanians remained peaceful. The students took the threat of provocation from either side seriously and did their best to prevent it from their side: students were asked to wear white shirts and all the participants wore badges with the symbol of the university and stating the faculty they were from. The protesters stood in lines of five, together in blocks according to faculty. Some carried flowers, others banners with one of the 31 slogans that the Union had agreed upon and published in advance. Clearly-marked organizers were responsible for directing the path of the protest and keeping onlookers separated from the students. Others had been designated to photograph the windows of buildings in the center of town, in case they later needed proof that snipers had fired on the protesters.
The students had planned to march from Velanija/Vellania, where the Students' Union, rector's house and most of the (Albanian) faculty buildings are, down into town, by the state university buildings and back up to the starting point.
At 10:45 about 15-20,000 students began a silent march down the hill from Velanija/Vellania. At the bottom of the hill, one smaller and one larger armored personnel carrier and about 60 armed policemen had blocked the road. The protesters, who walked to a distance of about 2 meters from the cordon, remained standing silently; many spectators hurried down the hill to see what would happen. The line of protesters stretched all the way up the road back to Velanija/Vellania. Approximately 20 minutes later, a helicopter appeared and began circling the area at medium height.
The second, larger armored personnel carrier had two gun-barrel like objects that can be used for throwing teargas (and, according to some observers, also for firing live ammunition). At 11:30, these barrels were aimed with one pointing down directly at the protesters and one at the crowd of spectators standing at the side. Shortly thereafter, the protesters started to become somewhat unsettled and there was some clapping, which quickly died down as the organizers signalled everyone to remain silent.
BPT-B heard several reports that at at least one location up on the hill, the police, which had also blocked off the streets, gave the protesters until 11:30 to disperse and go home. This was not the case at the bottom, where the police did not speak to the crowd at all.
At 11:50, the first apc began moving slowly forward. The first rows of protesters tried to sit down but the apc continued to drive forward. At that time, police began beating protesters in the first rows and throwing teargas. Most protesters and spectators were able to run up the hills to either side of the road, while the rector and vice-rector of the university and several members of the Students' Union executive committee were beaten with truncheons and arrested.
All totalled, the police fired teargas about 20 times up the hill after the dispersing crowd. They also pursued some groups of spectators for some way up the hill, apparently in order to make sure that they did not stop and regroup. There were isolated incidents of stone-throwing after the intervention of the police began.
Up on Velanija/Vellania, the police intervened in similar fashion. Some civilians escaped into private houses; few were pursued by police. Most seem to have left the area by jumping over the fences and walls and running through people's gardens; some sustained injuries in the process.
In the center of town, several thousand spectators had gathered along the projected protest route to watch the proceedings. These crowds were also dispersed by the police in a systematic fashion, using truncheons and, according to some reports, also teargas. We could not confirm reports that teargas was also thrown from helicopters.
After signing statements at the police station, the arrested students were released after about one and a half hours. The four or five students BPT-B saw in the following days who reported having been beaten were in good condition. Some of those arrested also reported having been beaten at the police station. All of those known to have been arrested were released at the latest a few hours after their detention. A few people were still unaccounted for the following day, and BPT-B has no further information as to their whereabouts.
According to information provided by the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms based in Prishtina, as of Friday evening 159 people had reported having been beaten in Prishtina, there were 352 reported beatings in all of Kosov@, of which 150 led to medium or serious injuries. The Council also reported a total of 34 arrests in all of Kosov@.
BPT-B could not confirm reports that Serb students were evacuated from dormitories shortly before the protests began. According to an Albanian employee in one of the dormitories, some of the students were also armed by police. One local Serb student stated that although he originally wanted to watch the protests, he was afraid he would be recognized as a Serb and decided to return to his flat.
Many members of the international community, as well as the Students' Political Club in Belgrade, denounced the use of force against peaceful demonstrations.
The Students' Union has announced that they will wait with further protests for approximately the next two weeks, in order to give diplomats and local politicians more time to find a political solution to the schools issue. Many people have expressed fears that reactions on both sides may well be stronger during any future protests and that the level of violence may well increase. For the long term, many people were also concerned that if peaceful protests are not seen as a viable option for action, the number of people willing to consider the use of outright violence may also rise.
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