Ethnic Albanians demand release of terrorist suspects

PODGORICA -- Protests were held to free U.S. citizens accused of terrorist plots in Montenegro.

Relatives of two jailed U.S. citizens accused of plotting an ethnic Albanian insurgency in their native Montenegro rallied Sunday outside the U.S. Embassy here demanding freedom for the suspects.

"Help American citizens imprisoned without evidence" read a banner held by some of the several dozen protesters who claimed that the charges against cousins Rok and Kolja Dedvukaj were politically motivated.

Rok Dedvukaj, 49, of Troy and Kola Dedvukaj, 58, of Farmington Hills, were arrested Sept. 9 while visiting Montenegro at the time of tense general elections along with a dozen local ethnic Albanians. All were accused of preparing terrorist attacks and other violence with the aim of carving out an autonomous ethnic Albanian region in eastern Montenegro.

Four of the suspects have been released pending trial, while others remain in custody and have accused the police of mistreating them.

The allegations of police beating the suspects led to an internal inquiry, which ended inconclusively as Montenegrin authorities said they could not reconcile the conflicting accounts by police and the suspects.

"The Montenegrin government has arrested and tortured my brother to the point where I could not recognize him," said Rok's sister, Katrina Dedvukaj, who also holds U.S. citizenship. "Montenegrin government has tried to falsely portray my brother as a terrorist."

The U.S. Embassy in Podgorica has "followed the case from the beginning ... and will continue to provide all adequate consular assistance" to the indicted U.S. citizens, the embassy's information assistant Sasa Brajovic told The Associated Press, without providing specifics.

There was no immediate comment from the Montenegrin government, which generally has had good relations with the ethnic Albanian minority — about 7 percent of Montenegro's 620,000 people.

Prosecutors, however, have accused 18 ethnic Albanians — including the Dedvukaj cousins and three others living in the United States — of conspiring to destabilize the tiny Balkan state, which became an independent country in June after splitting from Serbia.

According to the charges, the U.S- based part of the group funded and instructed their ethnic kin in Montenegro to "use explosives and weapons for terrorist acts aimed at controlling ... military posts, police precincts and other important facilities" in the ethnic Albanian-populated area close to the border with Albania.

"There is no evidence against Rok," his sister Katrina Dedvukaj insisted, adding she hoped "America will show Montenegro what real democracy is."

If convicted, the accused face up to 15 years in jail each. No trial date has been set.

Unlike ethnic Albanians in neighboring Serbia's province of Kosovo, the ethnic Albanians in Montenegro have not developed a separatist movement or disputed the government rule in the past.