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The BBC's Nicholas Wood
"This is by far the most serious break-out"
 real 28k

Sunday, 3 September, 2000, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Mass jail-break in Kosovo
K-For troops on bridge
Mitrovica is one of the main centres for Serb prisoners
Fifteen Serb prisoners have escaped from a United Nations-run detention centre in the city of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo.

The men, who are accused of crimes ranging from mass murder and genocide to arson and theft, managed to overpower a prison guard and seize his keys.

Two of the prisoners were later recaptured and the search for the others is continuing.


It is very hard to express the degree of concern that I have over this incident.

UN administrator William Nash
Police and Nato-led K-For peacekeeping troops have set up road blocks and are searching houses in the city.

The Serbs had attacked and slightly injured a UN prison guard at about 2100 (1900 GMT) on Saturday before making their escape, a spokesman for the administration said.

Ambush

UN police spokesman Andrea Agnelli said one prisoner had been allowed to use the telephone, and, when the door was opened to return him to jail, the guard escorting him was ambushed by other prisoners.

The prisoners then unlocked cells, held up other officers and two translators at gunpoint, tied them up and stole $2,800 of German marks.

The prisoners - one third of the total number in the detention centre - then escaped by scaling a perimeter fence.

Of the 13 escapees still at large, four are accused of war crimes, three of genocide, four of mass murder, one of murder and one of arson and theft.

Most were arrested in July and August last year following the arrival of K-For and the UN.

The UN administrator of Mitrovica, US army general William Nash, said: "It is very hard to express the degree of concern that I have over this incident.

"I am sure the UN police will conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate action."

Escaped prisoners

The jail, in the Serb-dominated northern sector of the ethnically divided city, has been used as one of the main centres for Serb prisoners in Kosovo.

The inmates, many of them charged with war crimes, have often protested about the length of time they have been held without trial.

This is the largest group to have broken out of jail since the UN took over the administration of the province just last year.

On 4 August, three Serbs detained pending trial for war crimes and genocide escaped after being transferred from the jail to a hospital, where they were being treated under police guard.

On 5 July, a Serb accused of murder escaped from the same hospital, and one day later a Serb accused of attacking a K-For soldier escaped from a military hospital in Kosovo Polje, central Kosovo.

UN officials announced a review of security procedures, but it is not clear whether any changes have been brought into effect.

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See also:

04 Aug 00 | Europe
Kosovo genocide suspects escape
14 May 00 | Europe
Serb protest for Kosovo prisoners
03 May 00 | Europe
Serbs split over refugee returns
13 Feb 00 | Europe
Violence flares in Kosovo town
04 Feb 00 | Europe
Analysis: What went wrong?
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