U.N. wants probe into Kosovo prison break-out

Published on August 22, 2007, Reuters

Category: Islamic Terror in Kosovo

By Matt Robinson

PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - The United Nations wants an independent inquiry into Kosovo's top-security Dubrava prison after seven inmates -- including convicted murderers and terrorists -- escaped with the help of their guards.

Five prison guards have been charged with aiding Saturday's break-out, and four other people have been arrested on suspicion of providing covering fire for the escape outside the prison walls with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

The U.N. mission in charge of Kosovo since the 1998-99 war said on Wednesday it wanted to hold "an independent evaluation of conditions at the Dubrava prison." The probe would try to "ascertain all the facts and ensure there are safeguards in the future to avoid anything else like this happening again," said spokesman Alexander Ivanko.

Among those who escaped were Saudi-born Ramadan Shyti, who is wanted on murder and terrorism charges in neighbouring Macedonia, and Lirim Jakupi, who is believed to be a leader of the shadowy Albanian National Army.

The United Nations, which has around 1,300 police officers in the province, has no direct role at the prison. But the escape is an embarrassment for the mission and the 16,000-strong NATO-led peace force.

One of those who broke out was armed with a pistol, while another was making his seventh escape from prison.

A Kosovo police spokesman acknowledged the convicts might already have slipped across the province's porous borders into neighbouring Macedonia, Montenegro or Albania. A NATO spokesman said Alliance forces could help with the manhunt if necessary.

The breakaway Serbian province has been run by the United Nations for the past eight years, since NATO bombed Serbia to drive out Serb forces and halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a two-year war against guerrillas. Ninety percent of Kosovo's 2 million people are ethnic Albanians, who want independence from Serbia.

Tensions are running high as the West struggles to keep its promise to back independence in the face of total Serbian opposition, strongly backed at the United Nations by Russia.

Serb-Albanian talks are set to resume later this month in Vienna, but NATO allies fear a unilateral declaration of independence and possibly violent unrest if there is no breakthrough by the end of the year.

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