Feature 25 Aug 16

Kosovo War Ex-Prisoners Fear Arrest in Serbia

Kosovo Albanians detained during wartime by the Serbian authorities still fear that they could be re-arrested, as the case of a man held last week at the Croatia-Serbia border highlighted.

Die Morina BIRN Pristina
The Kosovo-Serbia border crossing. Photo: BIRN

Former wartime prisoners from Kosovo have expressed concerns about the possibility of re-arrest after Xhavit Kolgeci was detained at the Croatia-Serbia border on August 17 while he was travelling from Slovenia to Kosovo.

Kolgeci alleged that he was tortured at the border and then taken to Nis in southern Serbia, where he was questioned at the local court about 46 other former prisoners from villages around Suhareka/Suva Reka, which was heavily targeted during the war by Belgrade’s forces, who arrested hundreds of locals.

“Among the names that I remember they asked about are Arben Kolgeci, Emri Loshi, Gazmend Bytyqi, Milazim Kolgeci, Rasim Guraziu, Maliq Shukolli, etc,” Kolgeci said.

These names appear on a list of 151 former Kosovo Albanian prisoners from Suhareka/Suva Reka which was compiled by the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, and which BIRN has seen.

Not all of them were Kosovo Liberation Army members, but all were accused of terrorism.

After the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, intended to stop Belgrade’s military campaign in Kosovo began in March 1999, Albanian prisoners were transferred to Serbia.

Human Rights Watch said in 1999 that the Yugoslav government had acknowledged that approximately 1,900 Kosovo Albanians were being held in detention facilities in Serbia, although some known detainees did not appear on the government's list.

The Associated Press then reported that in March 2002, Belgrade decided to allow all the Kosovo Albanian prisoners still in jails in Serbia to be transferred to Kosovo.

Many prisoners are believed to have paid between 10,000 and 20,000 Deutschmarks for their release.

 Xhavit Kolgeci. Photo: Facebook.

Kolgeci, who was first in detention from 1998 to 2002, was ultimately released last week after being questioned by court officials in Nis.

“Initially I was asked why I did not respond to a court summons. I told them that I had not received any request and I knew that my case was closed, because I was released after that court decision,” he said.

Bashmir Xhemaj, the head of the foreign minister’s office in Kosovo, said that he knew of similar cases of Kosovo Albanians being arrested in Serbia on expired charges dating back to wartime.

“This happened because Kolgeci was in prison before, and Serbia has not updated the lists [of Kosovo Albanians who are wanted] across the country and with Interpol internationally, therefore we have repeatedly raised concerns with the Serbian authorities and international bodies because this is not the only case,” said Xhemaj.

Serbia’s wanted list is not public, so many Kosovo Albanians do not know if they are suspects who are liable to arrest or not.

All former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, former prisoners and others who were involved in the Kosovo war are at risk of being arrested if they enter Serbia, said the chairman of the Council for Protection of Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo, Behgjet Shala.

“Serbia has not made public the list of those who are wanted, so as long as we don’t have any official explanation regarding those lists, I call upon all those who think they could be stopped by the Serbian authorities to avoid passing through the territory of Serbia,” Shala told BIRN.

Former prisoner Nesim Morina told BIRN that he was arrested and accused of terrorism during the war, but released in 2000 after his family paid 15,000 Deutschmarks to a Serbian lawyer who was supposed to pay the authorities on their behalf.

He said that during the war, being Albanian was enough to get arrested.

“The Serbian authorities wrote down fictional charges, which we did not have any idea about,” he said

Since he was freed, Morina has never received any summons from the Serbian authorities, and has been given no official notification to say if he is still wanted or not.

Now an official at Kosovo’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, Morina passed through Serbia in 2015for the first time after the war on an official trip, but wasn’t stopped by the authorities.

However, he said he was now more concerned about the possibility of being re-arrested.

“After I heard that Kolgeci had been arrested, I would not feel safe travelling through Serbia anymore,” he said.

BIRN contacted the Serbian prosecutor’s office for information about the wanted list, but received no reply by the time of publication.

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