Serbia gags opposition media, presses attacks in Kosovo
By Guy Dinmore – Special to the Tribune December 18, 1998
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Serbia on Thursday responded to U.S. efforts to revive the peace process in Kosovo province by closing an Albanian-language newspaper and pressing ahead with a border offensive against separatists.
Western diplomats were dismayed by developments in Kosovo, which they fear could lead to a resumption of full-scale war and described Belgrade’s actions as a slap in the face to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke.Returning to Belgrade this week for the first time since reaching a deal two months ago that averted NATO airstrikes, Holbrooke raised the issue of media freedom in talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Tuesday.
Holbrooke’s pleas for both sides to show restraint in Kosovo after an escalation of fighting also appeared to have been ignored; ethnic Albanian politicians reported heavy attacks by government forces on villages close to the border with Albania.
Binak Kelmendi, editor in chief of Bujku, one of three Albanian-language dailies in Kosovo, said that the state-controlled printing house in the provincial capital Pristina refused to publish Friday’s edition.
Earlier, Kelmendi received a letter from the Serbian information ministry accusing Bujku of violating a newly passed media law that also has resulted in the closure of several independent Serbian publications. Electricity to the Bujku newsroom was cut Thursday, Kelmendi said.
Koha Ditore, another Albanian-language daily, and the weekly Zeri also received the letter, warning them of court action if they continued to publish articles deemed to be inciting interethnic hatred. The three publications broadly support the pro-independence aspirations of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.
Diplomats said Belgrade’s attack on the Albanian-language media would further complicate U.S.-led efforts to negotiate a political settlement to the conflict in Kosovo, which has taken more than 1,500 lives this year and displaced some 300,000 people.
Under the threat of NATO attack, Milosevic agreed in talks with Holbrooke on Oct. 13 to a partial withdrawal of his security forces from Kosovo and the presence of 2,000 unarmed international observers to verify the peace process. In recent weeks, some special police forces have returned to Kosovo and diplomats expressed concern about the movement of armored units of the federal Yugoslav army.
Serbian officials said police killed two rebels of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army in the village of Glodjane on Thursday and captured large quantities of weapons.
Police in the western town of Pec also rounded up ethnic Albanians suspected of involvement in an attack on a cafe on Monday in which six Serb youths were killed.