Yugoslav prison conditions prompt rioting

By DUSAN STOJANOVIC

Associated Press

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia – More than 1,000 inmates demanding better conditions rioted in one of Yugoslavia’s largest prisons, forcing guards to pull back today into observation towers. At least three inmates were reported injured.

Prison authorities and representatives of Serbia’s Justice Ministry were holding talks with the inmates this morning, said a prison official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Police sent in reinforcements, who guarded the prison entrance.

The riot erupted late Sunday in the prison near Sremska Mitrovica, 50 miles northwest of the capital, Belgrade, the official told The Associated Press over the phone. He said the inmates were not armed.

To avoid violence, the prison guards had withdrawn from the immediate vicinity of the inmates, only manning watchtowers inside the prison, said the state-run Tanjug news agency.

Tanjug said the unrest began at one of the prison’s three buildings, and by early today had spread to the other two, which house about 130 ethnic Albanian prisoners from Kosovo, a Serbian province. In all there are 1,300 inmates in the prison, including 50 foreigners and six prisoners on death row.

The Beta news agency quoted the mayor of Sremska Mitrovica, Zoran Boskovic, as saying that the prisoners were “demanding better conditions inside the jail and something to do with the amnesty law” planned by Yugoslavia’s new president, Vojislav Kostunica,

No details have been announced about the law, which would affect political prisoners, most of them Kosovo Albanians. The 78-day NATO bombing campaign last year forced Yugoslav forces to leave Kosovo.

There were unconfirmed reports that the prisoners had set fire to a printing press, the carpentry workshop and a file cabinet containing inmate records.

Fire brigades were refused entry to the prison. They then tried to extinguish the flames from the outside. Stray wisps of smoke rose from within the prison compound later today.

Beta reported that some three or four inmates were injured but did not specify how badly. Tanjug said four inmates were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

By this afternoon, some 100 inmates positioned themselves on the roof of one of the prison buildings, said local reporters, gathered about 100 yards from the prison gates.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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