US students in Kosovo jailed by Serb officials

March 27, 1998

Four United States students who travelled to Kosovo in solidarity with Albanian-speaking students in the troubled Serbian province have been jailed.

The students - named as Daniel Perez, Teresa Crawford, Bruce Warren and Alberto Cevallos - and two other US citizens were sentenced last week by a Pristina court to ten days in prison for failing to register with authorities.

They had gone to support the Kosovar-Albanian students in the campaign to "recover" their campuses from the Serbs. After the Serbian police action against alleged terrorists in the Drenica area, the US students stayed to join the demonstrations that followed and to observe last weekend's elections for the unofficial, ethnic Albanian "parliament" of Kosovo.

The arrests of the students, a human rights activist and a journalist were almost certainly due to the reluctance of the Serbian authorities in Kosovo to have any international attention on the elections. A group of US congressmen who had intended to monitor the elections was not allowed into Kosovo and had to remain in neighbouring Macedonia.

Ironically, the student activists whom the US students had gone to support were not in favour of the elections. They had put out a statement urging that the elections be deferred in light of the Drenica killings. Nevertheless, when political leaders of the Kosovar Albanians decided that the elections should go ahead, the students turned out in force to vote.

In Belgrade, Serbian president Milan Milutinovic made a token response to suggestions from the international community that "normalisation" of the education situation in Kosovo would be seen as a sign of Serbian goodwill.

On March 16, Mr Milutinovic met Vincento Paglia, a founder of the St Egidio foundation that, in August 1996, brokered the agreement that was supposed to lead to a phased return of Kosovar-Albanian students to the classes that they have been excluded from for seven years.

In Pristina two days later, the students of the (Serbianised) University of Kosovo staged a demonstration, ostensibly against Kosovar-Albanian "terrorism", but possibly triggered by the meeting between Milutinovic and Paglia.

The deal was signed this week by Ratomir Vico, the Serbian minister in charge of relations with Kosovo, and leaders of the largest Kosovar Albanian political party. However, it was greeted with hostility by Radivoje Papovic, rector of the University of Pristina, and condemned by the university council as a concession to Kosovar separatists.

Under the deal, the university will reopen to Alabanian-language academics and former students on March 30, and faculties will be integrated by October.

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