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Yugoslavia: Amnesty Tells Of Exceptional Suffering In Kosovo

London, 25 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The human rights movement, Amnesty International, said today that "exceptional" suffering has become routine in Kosovo, where Serbian forces are engaged in an offensive against ethnic Albanian separatists.

The London-based movement said that, as news breaks daily of more civilian communities in Kosovo coming under fire, "Extreme misery and pain produced by human cruelty is now an everyday experience for more and more helpless people."

Amnesty has produced three new reports on Kosovo's human rights crisis including one on the plight of women victims, and another on people who have "disappeared" or "gone missing."

Amnesty said: "In areas of civil turmoil and conflict, women are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses."

Sandra van den Bosse, a campaigner for Amnesty International's Kosovo crisis research team, says 80 percent of the victims are what she called "forgotten groups" -- vulnerable women, children and the elderly who were forced to become refugees or internally displaced

"The majority of women are forced to flee, which means they have to live in the woods without access to humanitarian aid."

Amnesty International says that hundreds of "disappeared" and "missing" people are the hidden victims of Kosovo. It says all ethnic groups are affected. It says ethnic Albanians have "disappeared" in Serbian police hands, while Serbs, Albanians and Roma are "missing" after abduction by the KLA. Paul Miller, Amnesty's researcher on Kosovo, said today relatives are living in uncertainty:

"The problem in Kosovo which is to some extent a repeat of what we saw in former Yugoslavia before, is that the armed forces, most of all the police, but also to some extent the Kosovo Liberation Army, have abducted and killed many people. We have literally hundreds of relatives living in uncertainty, not knowing what has happened to their loved ones, whether they are detained, or whether they are alive."

The "disappeared" include Jakup Qerimi, a 27-year-old ethnic Albanian who is mentally retarded. Police detained him in the town of Urosevac on June 20. When his mother sought information about him, police told her that he was a KLA member. They told her "she would never see her son again, so far they have been right."

Among the recently "missing" is Djordje Djoric, a 28-year-old Serb who, on July 17, was stopped near Orahovac by the KLA while driving a pregnant neighbor to hospital. The KLA reportedly held him in detention at the hospital and beat him because his brothers are police officers. There has been no further news of him.

A third report from Amnesty focuses on events at Orahovac, a town fought over by the KLA and Serbian forces in July, and the scene of numerous human rights abuses. During the fighting, ethnic Albanian civilians were reportedly deliberately and arbitrarily killed. Houses were shelled indiscriminately, and some are said to have been deliberately set on fire. Some 15,000 people -- three quarters of the town's population -- fled.

Amnesty International is highlighting what it calls "the many unanswered questions" from Orahovac, including the need to investigate possible extrajudicial executions, and other deliberate and arbitrary acts by police and military forces. It says more than 300 people were taken into detention -- among them more than 50 believed still detained and now facing criminal charges.