6 Americans jailed in Kosovo
U.S. congressional delegation also turned back at border
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March 21, 1998
Web posted at: 8:19 p.m. EDT (2019 GMT)
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- Six Americans who traveled to the troubled Yugoslav province of Kosovo to observe Sunday's elections have been arrested and sentenced to 10 days in jail for failing to register with Yugoslav authorities after their arrival.
Also on Saturday, three Congress members leading a delegation trying to enter Kosovo to monitor the elections were turned back at the Macedonian border.
The vote is to elect officials of the Albanians' self-style Republic of Kosovo, which is not recognized by Yugoslavia. Kosovo is a province of Serbia, one of the two republics that make up Yugoslavia. Though ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs 9-to-1, Kosovo does not have autonomy over its own affairs.
"[Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic has been treating his Albanian citizens with contempt .. and now he's treating the Americans, including the members of Congress, with contempt as well," U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, told CNN in a phone interview from Skopje, Macedonia.
U.S. launches protest over arrests
White House sources tell CNN that the United States had launched a strong protest over the arrests. Richard Miles, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Belgrade, said the United States was "outraged" and that "this is not helpful at a time of such crisis between our governments."
Five of the six jailed Americans, who arrived in Kosovo Friday, were affiliated with a San Francisco-based activist group called Peaceworkers. They were identified as David Hartsough and Teresa Crawford of San Francisco; Daniel Perez of Berkeley, California; Bruce Hemmer of Chantilly, Virginia; and Alberto Cerallos, whose address was unknown.
A Peaceworkers spokesperson in San Francisco said the sixth American, Peter Lippman of Seattle, was a journalist, although it wasn't immediately clear for what news organization. He was also reportedly the group's translator.
Hartsough is the director of Peaceworkers; Crawford, Perez, Hemmer and Cerallos are college students.
The six Americans were traveling on tourist visas. Under Yugoslav law, travelers are required to register with authorities when they arrive in the country. Guests at hotels are registered automatically, but the group had reportedly been staying in a private residence and failed to register.
Congressional group repeatedly denied visas
The 14-member congressional group, led by Engel, U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly, R-New York, and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, were repeatedly denied visas to enter Kosovo by Yugoslav officials, despite entreaties by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Robert Gelbard, U.S. special envoy to the Balkans.
"For the longest period of time, we couldn't get an answer from them. They rejected [the visa request] on the basis of bureaucratic gobbledy-gook," Engel told CNN.
"And then we were finally told ... they didn't want us to observe the Albanian elections in Kosovo because they regarded these elections as illegal and felt that the congressional presence there would give the elections credibility," he said.
The delegation was turned back when they tried to tried to apply one last time for visas at the Macedonian border.
The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was "not acceptable to come to Yugoslavia uninvited and to have the visitors determine themselves when, and through which point, they will enter,
Engel said he believes the United States and the international community need to take a "strong stand" to stop Serb repression in Kosovo, including imposing sanctions, beefing up the U.N. military presence in Macedonia and even considering the imposition of a no-fly zone over Kosovo.
More than 80 people have died since late February when Serb police launched a crackdown on Albanian separatists seeking independence for the province.
Reuters contributed to this report.