- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

The chief U.N. administrator of Kosovo said yesterday he has suspended a Washington-area man who headed a detention center after 15 Kosovo Serbs escaped, and warned that other U.N. personnel also could face disciplinary measures.

Administrator Bernard Kouchner told reporters the Saturday escape is under heavy investigation.

"It's easy to come from the international community and not be responsible," said Mr. Kouchner, addressing past criticism of lax U.N. performance in Kosovo. "They will be responsible."

The prison director, Vincent deCellier, is a former Prince George's County police officer from Smithsburg, Md., who volunteered for the mission in Kosovo last September.

Mr. deCellier, however, has not been notified of his dismissal.

His wife, Toby Jean "TJ" deCellier, told The Washington Times last night that she called him after reading an Associated Press report that he had been suspended.

"If they have [dismissed him], they haven't told him," she said.

"They're going to have to have a scapegoat, but he's been a cop for 40 years. It is part of the political aspect of police work, and he is familiar with it," she said.

"His being suspended is the least of my concern, his being hurt is my main concern."

Mr. deCellier, meanwhile, has gone two days without sleep. His main concern, she said, is for the safety of his officers, two of whom were brutally beaten during the escape.

"He was just very concerned they were beaten so badly, and when they reported to work the next day he sent them home but they insisted on staying," she said.

Her husband has encountered many obstacles in creating what amounts to an international police force. Mrs. deCellier said a lack of equipment and training methods employed by different countries make it difficult to put together a cohesive police force in the detention centers.

"The regular rules don't apply there," she said.

"I'm scared because this happened inside the jail. I never worried about him being behind the big brick walls, but this happened inside the jail, and that's really scary for me."

Mr. deCellier was among the first 500 police officers to enter Kosovo. The force has grown to 3,000 police officers from 42 countries. The U.S. officers are the largest contingent.

The Serbian prisoners, most of them facing charges of genocide or crimes against humanity, fled from the U.N. prison in the primarily Serbian part of the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica. Two were caught quickly, but the other 13 remain at large.

The fugitives escaped by overpowering a U.N. police guard who had accompanied a prisoner back to his cell after a phone call, a U.N. official said. A group of prisoners attacked the guard and hit him over the head with a pistol they had smuggled into the prison.

"I want U.N. people, like in a real body of governance, [to be] responsible for their acts and for themselves," Mr. Kouchner said.

The jail break was the fifth this year by prisoners in Mitrovica, and U.N. officials admit it could further erode their credibility among ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Mr. Kouchner said he feels "humiliated, frustrated and guilty, really guilty" about the escapes.

An attempt yesterday to transfer the remaining Serbs from the jail in Kosovska Mitrovica stalled after angry Serbs blocked the road leading to the facility.

Mr. deCellier told The Washington Times last month his job was a "huge challenge."

"I've never before had to drag out whatever little bit of talent I have every day," he said.

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