Report Charges Serb Abuses Rise in Kosovo


`WITH the world's attention focused on Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia apparently feels free to accelerate with impunity its violations of human rights in Kosovo.''

So charges a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki (HRW) report due to be released Monday.

According to the report, the Serbs have intensified their campaign to force Albanians - the majority population in Kosovo - out of Serb-populated areas, particularly since last July, when Yugoslavia forced out of Kosovo the monitoring mission of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).

HRW workers traveled throughout Kosovo from September 1993 through January 1994, interviewing hundreds of people and chronicling human rights abuses, from those perpetrated against individuals to raids on villages, harassment of human rights groups and political organizations, and Serb manipulation of the legal system.

The HRW report says that ``the number of incidents of police abuse increased dramatically in 1993, with more than 5,700 cases of police maltreatment and 1,400 arrests reported in the first four months alone.'' There were 5,700 incidents reported to a human rights organization in Kosovo for 1992.

Detailed reports by eyewitnesses and victims of each of HRW's allegations are included in the report, which has not yet been seen by the Serbian government.

Abuses include: beatings and torture by police ransacking homes and entire villages searching for illegal weapons; beatings for using the Albanian language; collecting property deeds and forcing Albanians out of their homes by saying they have improper paperwork; and the beating, torturing, and sometimes killing of suspected leaders or members of the Democratic League of Kosova, the largest Albanian political party.

Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population of Kosovo, with the remainder largely Serbs. Under Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia, Kosovo was an autonomous province in Serbia. But in 1990, Serb President Slobodan Milosevic revoked its autonomy.

``The Kosovo Albanians have refused to sign oaths of loyalty to Serbia and Yugoslavia and instead have organized defiantly for an independent Republic of Kosova,'' the report says. Serbs have used this as an excuse for taking repressive measures, even though the Albanians are unarmed and lack the means to stage a rebellion.

``When people talk about the war in the former Yugoslavia spreading to Kosovo, they don't seem to understand that it's already there,'' says Jeri Laber, executive director of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki. ``Our concern is that the harassment of the Albanian people cease before that erupts into more violence.''

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