Talks begin over jailed Kosovans

February 11, 2000

The plight of unknown numbers of Kosovan academics and students held in Serbian jails was high on the agenda at the first official contact between the Serbian and Albanian academic and student communities since the end of the Kosovo conflict.

A round-table discussion in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, under the auspices of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia last month brought together 35 students, professors, intellectuals and human rights activists from Kosovo and Serbia. Representatives from international agencies were present, as was a diplomatic delegation from the Swiss government, which sponsored the meeting.

The talks were the culmination of the committee's project to build confidence among Serbs and Albanians, which was launched in 1997. The committee, established in November 1994, has worked to promote democracy, civil society and human rights among academics, students and intellectuals.

Ksenjia Lazovic, a committee member and meeting organiser, said: "There was no set agenda as we realised that the meeting would be difficult and wanted the participants to point us in the right direction. The discussion soon turned to the political prisoners held in Serbian jails and both communities launched an appeal for their prompt release."

Many academics and students are among those held under no specific criminal charges awaiting a trial that could be years away.

"Both Serbs and Albanians were open to communication and agreed on the need to overcome animosity and stereotyping through continued contact and setting an example to their communities," Ms Lazovic said.

"I couldn't say for sure how representative the students who took part in the meeting are of the Serb student population ... nobody here wants to speak publicly about the consequences of Serbian policy in Kosovo or recognises current events as the logical outcome of such policy.

"That recognition is essential for the normalisation of relations between the two communities."

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