The most famous prisoner in Serbia shuffled into the deputy warden's office today, her boots missing their laces and her hands clasped behind her back. She was pale and her fingers trembled, but she was defiant and angry.
Flore Brovina, a middle-aged pediatrician and poet with dyed blond hair, beloved in her native Kosovo but accused of being an enemy of the state by Yugoslav authorities, is among hundreds of ethnic Albanians who were taken from jails in Kosovo in the last days of the war last month and moved to prisons in Serbia.
Brovina is among the lucky ones; she has been found. Most of the prisoners have yet to be accounted for, and they are among the larger ranks of missing ethnic Albanians whose fate is one of the great human rights mysteries of the Kosovo conflict. Over the three months of war, thousands of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, mostly men of fighting age, were pulled from their homes and from columns of refugees streaming into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.
They vanished without a trace.
Some were killed, and only the excavation of graves and forensic investigations will tell their stories. But many were incarcerated in seven prisons around Kosovo. Many were held without formal charges, allowed under a martial law decree that governed Yugoslavia during the war.
At war's end, as NATO forces advanced into Kosovo province, some prisoners escaped -- how many is unknown. At least 800 were marched to the Albanian border and released by Yugoslav security forces. The rest were taken in a long convoy of buses and trucks to Serbia.
Today, Brovina took a seat before her captors and announced to her first visitor since her arrest in April, "I do not consider myself a prisoner, but a slave."
She said, "I have only one question: Why am I here?"
For the next two hours, as the deputy warden and a guard by turns grimaced with shame or anger, disbelief or disgust, Brovina, 50, described her journey through the Serbian criminal justice system, where she is charged with being a terrorist.
Serbian Justice Minister Dragoljub Jankovic said in an interview this week that his staff has accounted for 1,860 prisoners brought to Serbia from Kosovo on June 10, the day Yugoslav forces began withdrawing from the province. The prisons of Kosovo are now empty, and the largest, at Istok, was bombed into rubble -- and prisoners killed -- by NATO airstrikes in late May.
According Jankovic, there are 800 of the missing at the prison here in Pozarevac; 400 in Nis; 330 in Sremska Mitrovica; 180 in Leskovac; 95 in Prokuplje; and 55 in Zajecar. These cities are all in Serbia.
The minister said he will soon turn over the names and locations, still being tabulated, to the International Committee for the Red Cross.
The 1,860 -- or more -- brought to Serbia from Kosovo are approximately the same number of missing prisoners that is circulating among humanitarian groups and lawyers in Serbia and Kosovo, its southern province. But even Jankovic acknowledged the final tally may grow. He said that many prisoners were moved, but their case files and other documentation, including investigative and trial proceedings, were lost in the race by Yugoslav forces and Serbian authorities to withdraw from Kosovo. Serbia is the dominant republic in the Yugoslav federation.
"We're doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances," Jankovic said.
The Belgrade government released 166 ethnic Albanian prisoners in June. Jankovic said another 200 would probably be freed soon.
The chief warden here, Stipe Marusic, said he received 647 prisoners from Kosovo on the last day of the war, of which 579 were ethnic Albanians, most of whom are not yet convicted of any crime but are listed on his manifests as "detainees" or "under investigation." Others are simply prisoners arrested in the last four months by the Serbian special police.
"We expect some to be convicted" of charges of terrorist activities, he said, "and some to be exchanged."
Human rights activists here and in Kosovo have faulted NATO leaders for not including in the peace accords more language about what is to be done with the prisoners.
Brovina said she believed they were being held as "bargaining chips," and were being "fattened" up in Serbian prisons before some are eventually released.
For weeks, Brovina's lawyer was not sure where she was. The Serbian Ministry of Justice could not find her. Confused about her misspelled name, the authorities said they were looking for a man. Jankovic assisted a reporter in finding Brovina. Brovina has been in trouble with Serbian authorities since the early 1990s, when ethnic Albanians in Kosovo began actively resisting a decree by Slobodan Milosevic, who was then president of Serbia, to strip the province of its limited autonomy and bring the majority ethnic Albanian population to heel.
In the purges that followed, Brovina was fired from her job at the hospital in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, but then founded the League of Albanian Women, which sponsored protests against massacres and repression. She also opened a center for vulnerable women and children.
"Our slogan was very simple," she said. "It was STOP." Brovina said they just wanted peace. But she admitted today that her sympathies clearly lie with the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, which battled Yugoslav forces for 16 months in an effort to win independence. "We didn't have anything to do with the KLA," Brovina said. "But if those were our sons, our husbands, our fathers, of course we liked them."
Brovina remained in Pristina at the start of the NATO airstrikes on March 24. But on April 20, she was arrested.
She was taken to the prison in Lipljan, on the outskirts of Pristina. She claims to have seen ethnic Albanian prisoners, arrested under Articles 125 and 136 as terrorist enemies of the state, lying naked on the floor, being beaten with ropes on the genitals in cells in the Lipljan jail.
She charges that the Yugoslav army erected an antiaircraft battery at the prison. "We were not prisoners," she said. "We were made targets."
Brovina said the prisoners at Lipljan were forced to say "Long Live Serbia" before they were allowed to use the toilets. Many complained about the food and the stingy rations, but Brovina and her warden agreed that the whole of Kosovo was doing without.
At the prison here today, two men held in Lipljan gave differing accounts. Neither saw an antiaircraft battery or soldiers, but one man, Hajdari Mursel, 63, a retiree, said he spent two weeks at Lipljan, where the guards "screwed with us," and "beat people with rubber hoses."
All the prisoners at Lipljan said that conditions there were much worse than in their new Serbian jails. Indeed, several prisoners went out of their way to say that they were well treated here at Pozarevac.
"They have not harassed me in any way," said Becir Bilalli, 44, the owner of a small shop. "I have only one problem now, that I am away from my family, and these charges against me."
Bilalli said that he was arrested at a checkpoint outside Kosovska Mitrovica in Kosovo last August. He is charged with terrorist activities. The reason, Bilalli said, is that like many in Kosovo he stood duty with a rifle on his shoulder outside his village at night.
"Everybody was on guard in Kosovo," he said. Bilalli, like the other prisoners, said that he has not communicated with his family since the NATO air war began, and that he does not know where his wife and sons are. They do not know he is in prison in Serbia.
On the eve of the final withdrawal of all Yugoslav army and security forces from Kosovo on June 10, Brovina and hundreds of other prisoners were loaded onto buses and driven to other parts of Serbia. They were ordered to keep their heads down, Brovina said, and told not to look out of the windows.
"We did not know where we were being taken," she said. Some prisoners feared they would be taken to a field and shot. Others wore all their clothes so that in event they were beaten, the blows would not be as punishing. There were few women in the prison convoys, Brovina said, but all the young ones feared they might be raped. They were not.
Many of the 579 ethnic Albanians taken to this prison came from Dubrava prison in the Kosovo town of Istok. Before the war, the Istok prison was the largest, and most modern, in Serbia. Built on the Swedish model, the prison had recreation rooms, a motel for conjugal visits, saunas and a decent library.
Enver Ramadani, 21, who was convicted of racketeering before the war, and acknowledged today he was indeed guilty of the crime, was at Istok. He called the prison "super."
But that was before the NATO bombing. In late May, Istok prison was hit for five days by NATO airstrikes. The exact numbers of dead and wounded are still unknown. What is known is that the site was filled with prisoners, many of them ethnic Albanians detained in the last weeks of the war.
Initially, Serbian officials said that 44 prisoners and guards were killed. Jankovic, the Serbian justice minister, said his latest information is that only six were killed, and 196 wounded, 20 seriously.
Ramadani said that he saw 30 dead bodies in the prison yard, covered from the sun by blankets. For five days, he said, NATO bombed, and he described a scene from hell: The guards fled into the woods, leaving the prisoners to fend for themselves. They raided the kitchens. They fled from the bombs down manholes and hid in the sewers, packed like rats, waiting for the concussions to end. He said that many were wounded and were treated by "so-called doctors" among them, who did the best they could. There was blood everywhere.
Ramadani did not see prisoners executed by Serbian security forces, although reporters who returned to Istok saw bullet holes in the walls and mattresses bloodied where heads would have lain.
Jankovic said that for the five days of the bombing, his people were not in charge. He does not know what happened during the bombardment, and seemed to suggest that if any atrocities occurred, it was others -- special police, paramilitaries -- who were responsible.
NATO officials stated that the site was a legitimate military target. "That was a military barrack, and we attacked it twice," said NATO spokesman Jamie Shea after the initial bombings. "Whether the Serbs were using it to house other people -- that's a different thing."
Husnija Bitic, an ethnic Albanian attorney working in Serbia and Brovina's newly appointed lawyer, said that one of the most disturbing things he has uncovered is that during the war, Serbian prisoners in Kosovo were moved north, deeper into Serbia, while ethnic Albanians incarcerated elsewhere in Serbia were moved to Kosovo. He does not know why.
Natasa Kandic, a human rights attorney based in Belgrade, said that she initially feared that many of the missing were dead. Now, she believes they are in prisons around Serbia. That is not good, she said, but it is better than the missing being found in mass graves.