NIS, Yugoslavia – Protests at two prisons in Yugoslavia turned ugly Tuesday, with shots fired, buildings set ablaze and a female inmate reporting an “orgy of rape” as Serbs went on a rampage to demand better jail conditions and amnesty for certain convictions.
The unrest, which began Sunday with a riot at a third prison, presented the latest challenge to new President Vojislav Kostunica. Even as his government tries to consolidate its authority, it faces a decade of pent-up discontent accumulated under the previous regime that now threatens to spill over into growing anarchy.
Kostunica and his supporters control government on the federal level but not in the two Yugoslav republics. With elections in Serbia six weeks away, allies of ousted President Slobodan Milosevic will remind voters that the disorder would not have been tolerated while he was in charge.
The riots at Pozarevac, Nis and Sremska Mitrovica appear linked by demands focusing on an end to alleged ill treatment and inclusion of Serbs jailed for criminal activities into a proposed amnesty law that would free Kosovo Albanians.
Witnesses outside the prison in Pozarevac, about 50 miles east of Belgrade, saw flames shooting from at least four buildings in the compound Tuesday and heard gunfire immediately afterward. The fires appeared to have burned out or been doused several hours later.
In the southern city of Nis, where inmates rioted Monday, a female prisoner told reporters the rioters were raping and molesting the women inmates.
“They broke into our ward and it’s now hell inside,” said Bosiljka Sumas. “It’s an orgy of rape.”
Sumas said one of her friends had smuggled her out of the prison, but gave no details.
“The ringleaders are forcing other prisoners into rape,” she said. “They are also fighting among themselves.”
Later, corrections officials said four other women also managed to leave the prison, leaving three inside.
An ethnic Albanian inmate who by telephone from the Nis prison said Serb inmates wearing guards’ uniforms and carrying weapons were saying, “We are going to kill you at nightfall.” The 300 ethnic Albanians had refused Serb demands they join in the rioting, the inmate said.
Seeking to defuse the crisis, the three officials jointly heading Serbia’s justice ministry ended negotiations with Pozarevac inmates by promising them a law that will grant amnesty for some nonpolitical crimes, to be introduced in parliament immediately after Dec. 23 elections. They also pledged better prison conditions. But they conditioned their promises on the end of the riots within three days.
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