Albin Kurti has been released from Serbian prison on 7 December 2001, but 203 Kosova-Albanian prisoners remain, detained in Serbia since June 1999.


High-profile Kosovo Albanian political prisoner released

A high-profile Kosovo Albanian political prisoner jailed by the regime of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was released from a 15-year jail term late today and returned to Kosovo.

Albin Kurti was arrested in Kosovo in April 1999 at the height of fighting between ethnic Albanian separatists and Milosevic's forces.

He was accused of "participating in setting up terrorist groups" and convicted of involvement with the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which led the separatist fight until a NATO bombing campaign forced the forces loyal to Milosevic to withdraw in 1999.

"The worst thing has happened," Kurti told reporters on his release. "I've been freed alone. My friends are still in prison in Serbia," he added after arriving by Red Cross jeep in the town of Merdare on the Kosovo border.
"I never asked for amnesty or a pardon."

Kurti was a student leader and spokesman for one of the main ethnic Albanian leaders, Adem Demaci, who at the time was the political representative of the now disbanded KLA in the Kosovo capital, Pristina.

He was 25 when he was jailed in March last year. There was no official acknowledgement of Kurti's release in Belgrade and it was not known who had ordered him to be freed or why.

Kurti was one of 1,300 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo still thought to be imprisoned in Serbia, most of them serving sentences for alleged terrorist activities, according to legal authorities in Belgrade.

Serbian forces are thought to have transferred around 2,050 prisoners - the vast majority of them ethnic Albanians - back to Serbia after they withdrew from Kosovo in June 1999.

Some of the prisoners were convicted and sentenced to jail terms, while others were freed before trial due to lack of evidence. Others were returned in exchange for Serbs held by ethnic Albanians.

During his trial, Kurti denounced Serbian state institutions, refused to accept a court-appointed lawyer and said he did not recognise "Milosevic's justice."

Kosovo, a southern Serbian province, was placed under UN administration in June 1999 after Milosevic's forces retreated following an intensive 78-day bombing campaign of Yugoslavia from the air by US-led NATO forces.

The province held its first democratic regional elections last month to elect an assembly with substantial autonomy for the province.

Milosevic was ousted from power in October last year, allowing Vojislav Kostunica to take over as Yugoslav president.

The former president is being held in a detention centre of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague and is due to appear on December 11 to enter his plea on genocide charges related to his role in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.