Police accused of beatings in Kosovo Serbian security forces arrest and torture civilians, observers say

September 27, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UROSEVAC, Yugoslavia -- The last time Hava Bislimi saw her eldest son, Rexhap, his face was battered and bruised. He was being pushed by security police officers into the family's front garden, where he was handed a shovel and ordered to dig for weapons.

Reeling from beatings at the police station, Bislimi, a 33-year-old accountant, was too weak to follow the orders. So neighbors were called in to help. After they failed to find the alleged cache, Bislimi was told to look at the house where he had been born, a sprawling structure with an ancient apple tree in the courtyard.

"This is the last time you will see it," Serbian officers were overheard saying as they marched him out of the gate.

They were right. The six weeks that began with Bislimi's arrest on his way to a family gathering July 6 and ended Aug. 21 with his reportedly brutal death in Serbian police custody have been pieced together by his 63-year-old mother, a sister and a cousin.

His death is one example, human rights officials say, of the arbitrary arrests and torture that the Serbian authorities are using to warn ethnic Albanian civilians to stop supporting a separatist guerrilla force fighting for the in- dependence of Serbia's Kosovo province.

Rights experts say these extrajudicial methods used by officials under the control of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic run parallel to the military intimidation by special police forces and the Yugoslav army, which continued last week to fire artillery at villages in central Kosovo.

Serbian judicial officials have announced the start of trials next month for 900 Albanians being held in Kosovo on charges of terrorism.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group that is documenting Bislimi's death and those of four other Albanians in police custody in the past two months, has expressed concern about the fairness of these trials. A senior official working with the United Nations human rights commissioner in Geneva -- former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier -- has asked Milosevic to grant the 900 amnesty as part of a possible political settlement.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has requested permission to interview those being held, but its officials have been granted access in only a very limit- ed number of cases. Under Serbian law, judges must grant pretrial access, but for the most part it has been denied, said Nic Sommer, a Red Cross spokesman.

Explaining their concern about the trials, Human Rights Watch officials cite the case of a lawyer, Destan Rukiqi, an ethnic Albanian who was tried in July, sent to prison and severely beaten.

Two Rights Watch researchers now compiling data in Kosovo, Fred Abrahams and Peter Bouckaert, said the Rukiqi case set a disturbing precedent.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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