Hundreds of ethnic Albanians and smaller numbers of Serbs or Montenegrins were killed in armed conflict in Kosovo. Many of them were extrajudicially executed by police or deliberately and arbitrarily killed by armed ethnic Albanians. Hundreds of people, all of them ethnic Albanians, "disappeared" at the hands of security forces. More than 250,000 people, the vast majority of them ethnic Albanians, were displaced, many of them forcibly, by police, soldiers or opposition ethnic Albanian forces. Armed opposition forces were responsible for human rights abuses, including the abduction of dozens of people, many of whom remained unaccounted for. There were numerous reports of ill-treatment, torture and excessive use of force. At least five people died in police custody. At least 1,000 ethnic Albanians were detained and placed under investigation on charges of "terrorism" and "armed rebellion". Many were reportedly tortured or ill-treated during interrogation. Many were convicted after unfair trials; some were possible prisoners of conscience. At least one conscientious objector was imprisoned. Four students were detained for a short period; they were prisoners of conscience. At least two people were sentenced to death.

Ethnic Albanians, who form the majority in Kosovo province, continued to demand independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). From March the police, and later the Yugoslav Army, deployed large forces in response to small-scale attacks by the Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës (UÇK), Kosovo Liberation Army, which seeks independence by violent means. Since 1996 the UÇK had attacked Serbian police, civilians and ethnic Albanians it regarded as "loyal" to the Serbian authorities. From March onwards confrontations increased. Many ethnic Albanians joined the UÇK and by July it effectively controlled a large area in western Kosovo. However, the police and army launched a major offensive in July and by September they had retaken control of most of the territory.

In October, following two UN Security Council resolutions and the threat of military intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the President of the FRY, Slobodan Miloseviç, agreed to the withdrawal of forces and the deployment of a 2,000-strong Verification Mission assembled by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The Mission was not operational by the end of the year. However, from October, following the withdrawal of the police and army and a cease-fire which was largely effective, the UÇK regained control of a large area of territory.

Federal and Serbian authorities failed to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, despite a UN Security Council resolution in November condemning the FRY for its failure to execute the Tribunal's arrest warrants.

In June the trial opened in Prijepolje of Nebojßa Ranisavljeviç who was accused of being one of the perpetrators of the abduction and killing of 20 people at the Ítrpci railway station in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993 (see Amnesty International Report 1994). The trial had not been concluded by the end of the year.

The Serbian authorities applied pressure on the independent media. A government decree and new media law resulted in the temporary or indefinite closure of five newspapers. Independent radio stations complained of a restrictive licensing policy and the closure of stations.

More than 1,500 people, predominantly ethnic Albanians, were reported to have been killed in the armed conflict by the end of the year. Evidence suggested that many of the killings were extrajudicial executions by the police, army or civilians armed by the authorities. In February police killed 26 ethnic Albanians in the villages of Likoßane and Çirez in the Drenica region of Kosovo. Police had been deployed after UÇK members reportedly fired at a school near Glogovac housing ethnic Serb refugees. Four police officers were killed in the subsequent fighting around Likosane and Çirez. It appeared that most or all of the ethnic Albanian civilian victims had been extrajudicially executed by police after UÇK members had withdrawn. The victims included Rukije Nebiu from Çirez who was pregnant; photographs of her corpse indicated that she had been shot in the head. Ten male members of the Ahmeti family were reportedly separated from the women and children in a house in Likosane and taken away by police. Two days later their bodies were discovered in the morgue in Pristina. Evidence indicated that they had been extrajudicially executed.

In early March there was a large-scale police operation in Donji Prekaz, another village in Drenica. Armed men, apparently associated with the UÇK, were present in the village. Police asserted that they had been attacked on the morning they began their operation, although this claim did not appear credible. At least 54 ethnic Albanians were killed in Donji Prekaz, some of whom were armed men. However, at least 12 of the bodies that were identified were women and 11 were children aged under 17. It appeared that many of the victims had been extrajudicially executed. Witness testimony, supported by the conclusions of an independent forensic pathologist, indicated that some of the male victims may not have been carrying arms or had surrendered at the time they were killed. For example, the body of one victim, Nazmi Jashari, showed evidence of beating and gunshots fired at point-blank range. The authorities failed to ensure that autopsies and independent and impartial investigations were carried out into the killings in Donji Prekaz.

There were many other reports of extrajudicial executions or other unlawful killings in the armed conflict which followed.

Hundreds of ethnic Albanians were reported missing by the end of the year. There was evidence that many of them had "disappeared" as a result of action by the police. For example, in April Hafir Shala, an ethnic Albanian doctor, was detained and taken to a police station in Pristina. Although others detained with him were quickly released, Hafir Shala was not seen again and the authorities neither acknowledged his detention nor provided information on his whereabouts. In May, eight ethnic Albanian men "disappeared" in Novi Poklek. Police attacked the village and detained the men after separating them from women and children. No substantive reply was received from the authorities to a request for an investigation from lawyers representing the families of the "disappeared" men.

Between March and September more than 250,000 people, predominantly ethnic Albanians, were estimated to have been displaced, many of them forcibly as a result of deliberate actions by the police such as extrajudicial executions and targeting of civilians. The police also set on fire, damaged or destroyed thousands of houses of ethnic Albanians and killed or destroyed livestock or crops. By September, tens of thousands of people were reported to be living without shelter. They were only able to find shelter or return to their homes, many of which were destroyed or badly damaged, after the October cease-fire.

There were numerous reports that the UÇK and other armed ethnic Albanians perpetrated human rights abuses, particularly forcible displacement, ill-treatment, abduction or detention of non-combatants of Serbian, Montenegrin, Albanian or Romani ethnicity. Many of those abducted remained "missing" at the end of the year. For example, in June, three elderly Serbs – Miloslav, Sultana and Aleksandra Smigiç – and Aleksandra's son Radomir went missing in the village of Leoina. Armed UÇK men entered Leoina, beat Miloslav Smigiç and tried to set fire to his house. Later, a larger group of UÇK men came and shots and screams were heard from the house of Radomir and Aleksandra Smigiç. No trace of them was subsequently found. They had been the last Serbs left in Leoina after other Serb villagers had fled in May following threats by armed ethnic Albanians.

Also in June, nine Serbian workers were abducted by the UÇK in the vicinity of the Belaçevac mine. In August, two Serbian journalists went missing; they were believed to have been abducted by the UÇK. Two other journalists were detained for 40 days in October and November. Some 100 people, predominantly Serbs and Montenegrins, who went missing in UÇK-controlled areas or who were detained by the UÇK remained unaccounted for at the end of the year. The UÇK refused to acknowledge that it held detainees other than those it released.

Numerous reports of ill-treatment or torture by police or soldiers were received, not all of these connected to the armed conflict. Hundreds of ethnic Albanians were beaten by police during demonstrations against police violence in towns throughout Kosovo in March. For example, around 100 people were injured in Peç during and following a demonstration. At least six unarmed ethnic Albanian demonstrators were reportedly shot by police during the incident, one of whom died of his injuries. The victims of the beatings included a 16-year-old schoolgirl who was beaten by police in a house where she was hiding. Her head and legs were injured by blows from truncheons. In May and June police beat Serbian students and others who were protesting in Belgrade against a new law which they claimed restricted the independence of universities.

Ill-treatment or torture often took place during interrogation in police stations, most frequently in Kosovo province. For example, Besa Arllati, an activist in the Djakovica branch of the Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës, Democratic League of Kosovo (the main ethnic Albanian political party), was detained for several days in the local police station. She reported being held in a cell fouled with urine and faeces and being severely beaten during interrogation. She was told that she must help secure the release of police officers believed to have been kidnapped by the UÇK. In July Destan Rukiqi, a lawyer and human rights activist, was charged with insulting a judge who refused to give him access to a client in July. He was sentenced to 60 days' imprisonment. After six days he was transferred to hospital with kidney injuries sustained as a result of beatings in police custody.

Five people died in custody apparently as a result of torture or ill-treatment, all of them in Kosovo province. For example, Rexhep Bislimi, a human rights activist, was arrested in July and transferred two weeks later to hospital with heavy bruising, several broken ribs and internal bleeding allegedly as a result of beating by police. He died in hospital three days later.

Many of those interrogated by police were kept in custody. By the end of the year, more than 1,000 ethnic Albanians had been remanded in custody. Many were tried and convicted of "terrorism", "armed rebellion" or similar charges. The trials frequently did not meet international standards of fair trial; the accused were denied access to consult with defence lawyers in private, and statements extracted from defendants under torture were reportedly accepted as evidence. The evidence did not in all cases support charges of using or advocating violence; some of the detainees were possible prisoners of conscience.

In February Pavle Boziç was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for refusing to perform military service. His request to perform alternative service had been granted, but he was nevertheless called up to serve in the army. In November, four students were imprisoned for 10 days for spraying anti-government slogans in Belgrade. They were prisoners of conscience.

Dejan Andjelkoviç and Zlatan Zakiç were sentenced to death in March for premeditated murder. No judicial executions were carried out.

Amnesty International appealed repeatedly to the authorities and to the UÇK to respect international humanitarian law and to prevent human rights abuses in Kosovo. The organization also called on the authorities to initiate thorough, independent and impartial investigations into allegations of extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, "disappearances", forcible displacement, torture and ill-treatment. It appealed for political prisoners to receive prompt and fair trials. Amnesty International also called for displaced persons to be enabled to return to their homes in safety and dignity. During the year the organization issued a series of reports under the title, A human rights crisis in Kosovo province, which documented human rights violations and abuses.

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