Serbian Supreme Court vacates activist's terrorism conviction

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - In a surprise, Serbia's Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Kosovo's best-known human-rights activist, a move that could lead to a new trial and possibly her release, her lawyers said yesterday.

Dr. Flora Brovina, an ethnic Albanian, was convicted of terrorism by a court in the southern city of Nis in December and sentenced to 12 years in prison for suspected links to the former rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Her lawyer, Rajko Danilovic, said he was told yesterday that the high court had referred the case back to the Nis tribunal. He said the court gave no reasons.

Under Serbian law, the lower court could either throw out the case entirely or order a new trial, said Natasa Kandic, head of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade.

"There has been no real evidence against her, and the Supreme Court simply could not ignore that," said Gradimir Nalic, a lawyer who has monitored the Brovina case for two human-rights groups.

Nalic said the decision also may be a result of intense international pressure for her freedom.

The court could have acted independently of the government of President Slobodan Milosevic, Nalic said. Or, the government could be trying to show it is using a softer approach in treating Kosovo Albanians in Serbian jails in hopes of getting help in finding Serbs missing in Kosovo, he said.

The 50-year-old activist was arrested in Kosovo by Serbian police during the 1999