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Albanian journalists go into hiding as foreign media expelled from Pristina

(WiPC/IFEX) - The WiPC of International PEN fears for the safety of Albanian
journalists in Pristina as reports are received suggesting that Serb forces
are arresting dissidents. The expulsion of all foreign agencies and media
from the region has left the area without independent observers or means of
gathering information on events there.

**Updates previous IFEX alert of 26 March 1999**

On Thursday, 25 March 1999, journalists from NATO countries were expelled
from the Kosovo capital, Pristina. A Serbian Ministry of Information
statement accused the foreign media of "reporting on the territory of the
Republic of Serbia, [that] strengthened the aggressive acts of Nato forces
aimed at violent destruction of ... the territorial integrity of Serbia and

Unconfirmed reports from Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) sources suggested on
Friday, 26 March, that Albanians were being arrested by the Serb
paramilitary and that a massacre had taken place in which some
"intellectuals" were among those murdered. It is not possible to
substantiate such reports since access to Kosovo has been cut off.

On 25 March the last remaining independent Albanian language newspaper,
"Koha Ditore", was forced to close down following a police raid during which
the newspaper's doorman was shot dead. Amnesty International reports that in
the early hours of that morning, Bajram Kelmendi, a human rights lawyer who
had acted on behalf of the newspaper, was taken from his home by Serbian
police. He is said to have been beaten with rifle butts and was taken away
with his two sons, Kustrim aged 16, and Kastriot, aged 30. His wife, Nekibe,
was not told of where her husband and sons were being taken.

"Koha Ditore"'s publisher, Veton Surroi, has gone into hiding, as has its
English language edition's editor, Dukagjin Gorani. On 24 March, shortly
before police closed his newspaper, Gorani wrote:

"Today is the last day of publication for 'Koha Ditore', and we will also
cease the English language 'KD Times' edition,...A few days ago I was beaten
outside our offices by police and could not get out of my bed for two days

...Like other Albanian papers, we refuse to pay such a "fine" to the
Yugoslav authorities, which would only be a contribution to their repressive
regime. So even if we had the cash, which we do not, we would not comply,
not even with a symbolic amount. Our publisher, Veton Surroi, said today in
his editorial that at least, through this fine, we confirm that we agree
with the regime on one thing: we represent a threat to them. At least they
got that right, and we are proud of it.

But frankly, in such a situation, the publication of Koha Ditore is a luxury
phenomenon, a quirk. The time for such communications as we had, with daily
newspapers, is finished.

...Any kind of news that you can get is like a breath of fresh air. But
there is no distribution, and people are on the move. We cannot get the
paper to the people. As for the English-language edition, of which I am the
editor, all the foreigners have left, so I have lost my readers.

In any case, now it is simply a matter of priorities: how to preserve
yourself, how to find shelter in the coming days. The newspapers can find
other ways of publishing again, but for the present, we are thinking of
fundamental survival, of running for our lives.

... Because of my profession, and being publicly exposed, I will change my
place of residence and take shelter for now. According to the news, this
could be in a couple of hours. I followed the statement by Tony Blair, the
British Prime Minister. I am quite knowledgeable about what is happening in
the House of Commons. But otherwise we have no news. I don't have the
slightest idea what is happening 500 metres from my house."

The full text of Gorani's article is available on the International War
Report Internet site:

On 21 March, "Koha Ditore" and its editor, Baton Haxhiu, were given a
US$50,000 fine on charges of "inciting national hatred." The charge was for
an article published on 19 March that quoted a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)
delegate to the Kosovo Peace talks who accused Serb forces of human rights
abuses tantamount to "genocide." Two other Albanian newspapers were forced
to close a few days ago after receiving similar fines.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to the President:
  • protesting the closure of independent Albanian-language newspapers and
    expulsion of foreign journalists in Kosovo as acts aimed at suppressing all
    independent analysis of events in Pristina
  • expressing concern about the arrest of lawyer Bajram Kelmendi, and his
    sons Kustrim and Kastriot
  • expressing further concern about unconfirmed reports that massacres have
    taken place which have included civilians not involved in armed activities
  • seeking assurances that the Government of the Republic of Yugoslavia
    stand by its commitments under the International Convention on Civil and
    Political Rights which guarantee - even at times of emergency - the right to
    life and freedom from torture

    Appeals To

    His Excellency Slobodan Milosevic
    President of Yugoslavia
    Savezna Skupstina
    11000 Belgrade
    Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
    Fax: + 381 11 636 775
    Email: [email protected]

    Appeals should also be sent to the representatives of the Federal Republic
    Yugoslavia in your own countries. In Canada, send appeals to:

    His Excellency Pavle Todorovic
    Embassy of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
    17 Blackburn Avenue
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1N 8A2
    Fax: +1 613 233 7850

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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