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Kosovo Daily Shut Down

International officials shut down Dita after it failed to pay a fine for an article naming alleged Serb war crimals
By Llazar Semini

The OSCE's Temporary Media Commissioner, TMC, in Kosovo, Douglas Davidson, last week ordered the immediate closure of the Albanian language daily, Dita.


The action followed its failure to pay a 25,000 German mark fine imposed for publishing an article accompanied by clearly identifiable photographs and personal details of 15 Serbs whom the paper implied were war criminals.


In the article, published July 4, the daily alleged that two Orthodox priests, whose addresses were included in the piece, had "blessed Serb paramilitaries after any crime and massacre they committed on Albanians in Kosovo".


"Despite letters of warning, Dita published personal details which could put in danger the lives or security of individuals concerned," said Davidson.


The local press has consistently protested over the international community's failure to bring to justice Serb war criminals, alleging that some have even been employed by the UN.


Following the article, Davidson called on Dita to publish a reply. Its response was deemed unsatisfactory. And on July 20, it was ordered to pay the 25,000 mark fine by July 25. It had not been paid by the deadline, hence the suspension order.


"Dita has now been ordered to cease operations immediately," an OSCE press release said on Thursday. The suspension stands until the fine is paid.


In response, Dita's publisher, Belul Beqaj, said, "For us the fine means nothing. We have clearly said it is a sign of the international community hitting the activity and freedom of the Kosovo press with 25,000 kicks.".


In an editorial published last Friday, Beqaj said they would obey the order but appealed for help from the "professional, political and legal factors, and especially you, dear readers."


Dita was temporarily closed down two months ago when it was held responsible for inciting vigilantes to kidnap and murder Serb UN translator, Petar Topoljski.The paper alleged he had been a member of a Serb paramilitary unit during the Kosovo war.


As a result ,on June 3, the UN's chief administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, ordered police to shut down the Dita offices for eight days.


In the Kosovo media these days, it is now quite commonly alleged that recent international actions against Dita are all too reminiscent of those of the former Serbian authorities.


For their part, Albanian journalists suggest that the international community is applying double standards: penalising them while letting the Belgrade press circulate freely in Serb enclaves in Kosovo. They also point out that in Western countries, journalists are free to conduct investigations and are not as hampered as they are here..


Head of the Journalists' Association in Kosovo, Haqif Mulliqi, condemned the recent OSCE steps against Dita and criticised new media regulations issued by UNMIK and OSCE this year.


Alarmed by the trend towards "vigilante journalism" in Albanian papers, international officials in Kosovo have introduced a number of emergency press laws aimed at preventing vendettas against suspected war criminals.


The laws will be limited and temporary in nature. But they are seen here as an attempt to control the Kosovo Albanian media. People argue that such regulations would not be tolerated in Britain or the United States."We shall not be under the service of anyone," said Beqaj.


Davidson is unmoved by Albanian protests over the press curbs. He says they are in place to ensure that Kosovo's mass media neither endanger the life of Serb individuals nor promote ethnic hatred.


Llazar Semini is IWPR's project manager in Pristina