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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 22:16 GMT 23:16 UK

World: Europe

Serb PoWs released

The handover happened at a Hungarian-Yugoslav border post

Two Serb prisoners of war have been released from American custody in Germany and handed back to Yugoslavia.

Kosovo: Special Report
The men were flown to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, before being transferred to the Yugoslav border.

The two men, Boban Milenkovic and Sefko Tairovic, had been captured in Yugoslavia last month by the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, and handed over to the US military in Albania.

The BBC's correspondent in Budapest, Nick Thorpe, says following the release of three American servicemen by the Yugoslav authorities at the beginning of May, the return of the two Serbs had been widely expected.

But the American authorities have been keen to stress that this was not an exchange but a humanitarian gesture. They also emphasized that, in contrast to the experience of the three Americans in Serbian custody, the two Serbs had been well-treated in American custody in Germany.

Under the Geneva Convention they could have been kept until the end of the armed conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, who mediated the handover, confirmed the men had been well-treated. The Red Cross also checked with them that they wanted to return to Yugoslavia.

The choice of Hungary for the transfer, as the only Nato member country with a border with Yugoslavia, was a sensitive one. The Hungarian government is trying to maintain some degree of normal relations with Yugoslavia, while at the same time fulfilling its obligations to Nato.

Twenty four F-18 attack aircraft were expected to arrive in Hungary next weekend and to participate in raids launched from Hungarian territory, for the first time in the conflict.

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