Albanians in Serbia protest ex-fighter jailing, urge NATO for security
Albanian political parties signed a declaration calling for the immediate release of 10 ex-KLA members and amnesty for local fighters.
Thousands of ethnic Albanians protested in a southern Serbian town on Monday demanding an immediate release of former Kosovo fighters and calling on NATO to oversee security in the region.
In December, police in Presevo arrested 10 former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters suspected of being involved in killings and abductions of Serbs in Kosovo in 1999. Albanian political leaders said Serbian police used excessive force during the arrests.
Protesters carried banners reading "Freedom fighters are not criminals" and "NATO to monitor the situation in the Valley," said Belgzim Kamberi, head of the Council of Human Rights in the majority Albanian Presevo valley.
The protests came a day after Albanian political parties signed a declaration calling for the immediate release of 10 ex-KLA members and amnesty for local fighters who fought Serb forces in 2000-1 to save lives of Kosovars.
The KLA staged fight against Serb forces in 1998-99. Serbia's response, expelling hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians, drew NATO into an 11-week bombing campaign to drive Serb forces out of Kosovo.
"We urge the international community, NATO, OSCE and EU..... to mediate talks between Serbian government and Albanian political representatives to evaluate a seven-year old peace process and stop the deterioration of the political and security situation," the declaration said.
The Presevo valley, bordering Kosovo, was the scene of another insurgency in 2000-01 when the Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja sought unsuccessfully to form a union with Kosovo. NATO and the European Union helped end the insurgency in the Presevo Valley in 2001 but Albanians in the region are angry at lack of economic development and investment.
Reuters Last Mod: 27 Ocak 2009, 11:43