Brovina a Famous Kosovo Activist

By Danica Kirka
Associated Press Writer
November 29, 1999

PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Flora Brovina knew she was being followed in the days after NATO started bombing Yugoslavia. Her orphanage, her peace marches and her knitting workshops were deemed threatening to Slobodan Milosevic's government.

The Kosovo pediatrician refused to stop working even as the circle closed around her. She delivered a baby just two hours before eight plainclothes policemen snatched her from the threshold of her apartment building in Kosovo's capital, Pristina.

Now she is among this province's most famous prisoners, one of thousands of ethnic Albanians accused of aiding the Kosovo Liberation Army in its armed campaign for independence from Yugoslavia's main republic, Serbia.

Their imprisonment despite the end of the fighting last June is thwarting plans to rebuild this troubled province, clouding hopes of reconciliation between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

"Without a solution for this problem, there's never going to be a stability and peace in Kosovo," Kosovare Kelmendi, a lawyer with the Humanitarian Law Center, a nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights. "You can be sure of that. No way."

Brovina is one of 1,712 ethnic Albanians - men and women ranging in age from 13 to 73 - known to be held in Serb prisons. Many were seized from refugee convoys fleeing the province during NATO's air campaign.

Just before peacekeeping forces moved into the province, Yugoslav authorities transferred them to Serbia.

The prisoners are now in a legal limbo, in part because agreements signed between NATO peacekeepers and Milosevic's government to end the air campaign contain no reference to them.

A U.N. resolution that followed put the United Nations in charge of Kosovo, but recognized Yugoslav sovereignty. That left them without an official government to intervene on their behalf and permit them to considered prisoners of war.

Brovina, whose trial continues in the Serb city of Nis on Dec. 9, has come to be a symbol of their frustrations. She stands accused of fomenting terrorism by allegedly organizing, among other things, the making of sweaters and masks for members of the KLA, which the Serbs considered terrorists. She also is accused of providing them with food, clothes and shoes.

The case of the 50-year-old mother of two has been singled out by the U.S. State Department, Human Rights Watch and by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians. She has become a rallying point for the struggle to free all Albanian prisoners transferred from Kosovo to Serb jails. International human rights groups and members of her family fear her trial won't be conducted fairly.

"She's going to be tried for terrorism, and the government that is going to try her is run by criminals," said her son, Uranik, noting that Milosevic has been charged by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. "The government accused of terrorism is trying the humanitarian worker."

When her trial began Nov. 11, Brovina denied the terrorism allegations and said her group, the League of Albanian Women, provided relief aid to women and children in war-torn areas.

At a hearing Thursday, a "key witness" for the prosecution was to appear with what prosecutors said would be firm evidence of Brovina's involvement with the KLA. The witness, however, didn't show up and the session was rescheduled for Dec. 9.

After hiring a Belgrade-based ethnic Albanian lawyer, her family has also hired a Serb lawyer, himself a refugee from Kosovo, who might have a better chance of successfully defending Brovina.

"I don't think I've done anything wrong, and I cannot forget the returning smiles to children's faces," Yugoslavia's private Beta news agency quoted her as saying on the first day of her trial. "What have I done wrong if I was saving the children?"

At the trial, the prosecutor offered a photograph, seized in Brovina's home, that shows her smiling with her hand over the shoulder of a uniformed KLA fighter. Brovina said the picture meant nothing.

Brovina, who was transferred out of the province two days before NATO-led troops entered Kosovo, is being held in Pozarevac prison, 30 miles south of Belgrade. Her husband, Ajri Begu, said she has had difficulty obtaining medication for her weak heart.

Begu, an economist and banker, believes his wife is being held as a bargaining chip, a prominent hostage to be traded by Milosevic's government for concessions. She faces 10 years in prison, but Begu said much more is at stake.

"It is not a trial against Flora," he said. "It is a trial against freedom of speech, against freedom to organize - against freedom itself."

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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