Kostunica defied over amnesty for dissidents

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The Independent Online

In one of the final twists of the Milosevic regime, the outgoing Yugoslav justice minister, Petar Jojic, yesterday raised a fresh challenge to the new president, blocking attempts to pardon the jailed human rights activist Flora Brovina.

In one of the final twists of the Milosevic regime, the outgoing Yugoslav justice minister, Petar Jojic, yesterday raised a fresh challenge to the new president, blocking attempts to pardon the jailed human rights activist Flora Brovina.

"She was tried because of a serious crime," Mr Jojic told journalists as he dismissed President Vojislav Kostunica's appeal for clemency.

"Kostunica did not name a single justified reason for me to pardon her," Mr Jojic said.

Dr Brovina, 51, an ethnic Albanian who has become a cause célÿbre for Kosovars, was sentenced by a Serb court last December to 12 years in prison for "supporting terrorism" in Kosovo. Like thousands of ethnic Albanians, she was arrested in 1999 during the Nato air campaign. Her case drew international condemnation.

Mr Jojic himself attracted international attention earlier this year with an open letter to Carla Del Ponte, head of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, that opened with the words: "To the international whore, Carla Del Ponte."

The outgoing minister is a member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj and will remain in his post until Monday. Mr Kostunica's government, which will include a majority of ministers from the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, will be inaugurated next week.

This means that Dr Brovina and at least 900 ethnic Albanians who remain in Serbian prisons since the mass arrests in Kosovo may yet be released within weeks.

One of President Kostunica's first moves when he came to power earlier this month was the introduction of a general amnesty bill.

The Yugoslav Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights, a prominent human rights organisation in Belgrade, is working on the draft of the new law, which will, in theory, extend to all victims of political repression under Mr Milosevic's regime.

Mr Kostunica, a constitutional lawyer, views the amnesty as an important step aimed at showing profound differences between the old regime and the new government. The law is expected to be endorsed by the new federal parliament at its first session next month.

Many ethnic Albanians have been held in detention without trial for more than 18 months, their lawyers say. Most are young men who were rounded up in their homes and villages for no reason other than being ethnically Albanian.

But the general amnesty will also extend to Serbs who refused to take part in military actions in Kosovo, and were treated by Milosevic's regime as "deserters". More than 20,000 of them were given five to 20 years in prison for draft dodging.

* The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) appealed yesterday for urgent aid for Yugoslavia, warning that 700,000 refugees from a decade of Balkan wars faced a "brutal winter". It said that although Yugoslavia, now with a new government, was attracting more aid offers for long-term economic development, "the needs are immediate for the refugees to survive the cold during this transition".

The agency said it had been hit by a severe funding shortfall, forcing it to cut back on its assistance programme.

The UNHCR's operational budget for Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro has been slashed to $37.5m (£26m) from $65m, leaving "funds for life-saving aid only, such as heating and food, for the coming critical months".

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