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Saturday, May 1, 1999 Published at 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK

World: Europe

Jackson pleads for POWs

The three soldiers are in good health says Jesse Jackson (NYTimes)

The United States civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson, has appealed to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for the release of three US prisoners of war.

Kosovo: Special Report
Rev Jackson made what he called a "moral appeal" to Mr Milosevic during a three-hour meeting in Belgrade on Saturday.

"We will know later today what his final decision will be," Rev Jackson said after the meeting.

But Yugoslav Assistant Foreign Minister Nebojsa Vujovic said earlier the release would not be "on the agenda" for the meeting.

The three soldiers, who had been stationed in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Maceonia, were captured a month ago on the Yugoslav border.

Prayers with prisoners

[ image: Reverend Jackson was shown the destruction of civilian buildings in Belgrade]
Reverend Jackson was shown the destruction of civilian buildings in Belgrade
Mr Jackson visited the three prisoners on Friday, and conducted a prayer session with them.

He said the men had showed "a great sense of dignity",and were in good health but being kept apart from one another in a military jail.

"Our country should be proud of them," he said.

"It has been for them a long, dark night."

US disapproval

White House officials tried to dissuade Rev Jackson from travelling to Yugoslavia. But when he insisted on making the trip, they urged him to tell Mr Milosevic that there could be no link between the release of the soldiers and an end to Nato air strikes.

Mr Jackson is not the first politician to try to secure the release of the soldiers.

The mission of the Cypriot parliamentary leader Spyros Kyprianou earlier this month ended in failure.

The 57-year-old founder and leader of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, who ran for the US presidency in 1984 and 1988, has previously secured the release of captives held in Syria, Cuba, Kuwait and Iraq.

  • In 1984, he secured the release of a captured US Navy officer, Lieutenant Robert Goodman, from Syria.
  • Three years later, he travelled to Cuba and won freedom for 48 Cuban and Cuban-American prisoners.

  • In 1990, he was the first American to bring hostages out of Kuwait and Iraq.

Mr Jackson was named in October 1997 as a special US envoy to Africa. But his trip to Belgrade is purely a private mission unrelated to that appointment, the White House said.

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