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Thousands May Face Draft-Dodging Trial

Yugoslavia: Rights activist is quoted as saying Belgrade may charge up to 28,000 for avoiding war. Some prominent figures could be spared.

July 28, 1999| From Reuters

BELGRADE — A Yugoslav human rights activist was quoted Tuesday as saying that authorities in Belgrade plan to put up to 28,000 people on trial for avoiding military service during the Kosovo war.

Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco, head of the Yugoslav Human Rights Lawyers Committee, was quoted by the Beta news agency as saying the move was part of a bid by Serbian authorities to crush political opposition in the country.

"It has been assessed that, mostly under the accusation of avoiding the military call-up and fleeing abroad during the state of war, between 23,000 and 28,000 trials have been initiated in Yugoslavia," Kovacevic-Vuco told Beta.

"These are mainly young people. . . . Many oppose the regime and did not want to take part in the war," she said.

"All opponents of the regime are threatened. They did not want to go to war, and they certainly do not want to go to prison."

Kovacevic-Vuco said some prominent opposition figures, such as Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, might not be threatened because the authorities fear an adverse reaction from the public.

Djindjic, who fled to Serbia's sister republic, Montenegro, during the NATO bombardment after he was publicly branded a traitor by ultranationalist groups, is due to appear before a military court in Belgrade today on charges of avoiding the military call-up during the state of war.

"The situation is different, however, with the less well-known, but nevertheless prominent, opponents of the regime, who are in great danger," Kovacevic-Vuco was quoted as saying.

She called for an amnesty for all those who avoided war service, saying she was amazed that the issue had not been included among NATO's conditions for ending its 11-week bombardment of Yugoslavia.

Authorities in Belgrade issued a general amnesty for people accused of avoiding the draft in Yugoslavia's 1991 war against Croatia when Zagreb declared its independence from the old Yugoslav federation.

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