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Serbia: Amnesty Appeals To EU And OSCE Over Kosovo Shootings

London, 4 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The human rights movement Amnesty International (AI) has called on the EU and OSCE to ensure that an investigation is carried out into the shooting of ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo.

An AI statement issued last night says the Balkans faces "a repeat of the gross human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia which horrified the world in recent years." AI says the danger has arisen because of "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 the news."

The Amnesty statement says Serbian "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."

It says: "AI is calling for the international community, particularly the EU and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to make concerted efforts to see that allegations are investigated and the developing situation is monitored."

Because of the tense situation, the report says, it is important to ensure the impartiality of such investigations and to involve representatives of the international community. Further events in Kosovo province must be "subject to intense international scrutiny."

The report calls on Serbian authorities to investigate 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."

The report expresses fear that ethnic Albanians 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 urges Serbian authorities to ensure that defendants are protected, particularly by ensuring that they are given full access to defense lawyers, family and, where necessary, medical treatment.

The AI statement also express fears that "any eventual trials of the detainees will be grossly unfair."

The report says police broke up peaceful demonstrations on Monday in Pristina and other towns, using teargas, water cannons and truncheons. Hundreds of demonstrators, who appeared to have been largely peaceful, were beaten.

The demonstrations arose in response to the killing of 'at least 16' ethnic Albanians during the weekend. Although 16 victims were acknowledged by Serbian authorities, ethnic Albanians report the return of 22 bodies for burial, says the report.

It says: "Although some of the dead may well have been men engaged in armed attacks on the police, AI 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."

The AI report says four police officers were also reportedly killed during the conflict.

The report also refers to an incident on February 28 when police reportedly clashed with members of the UCK (the Kosovo Liberation Army) in the village of Likosane 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 AI report says: "The police allegedly shot some of the victims from helicopters before moving in with armored vehicles."

The report notes that both Cirez and Likosane are in the Drenica region where UCK 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 alleged that there have been further attacks on Serbs, including civilians, in some cases resulting in people being injured.

The report says: "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 says: "It is alarmed that the police have used brutal tactics to break up peaceful demonstrations."