Fire hits YU private media center

NOVI SAD, Apr 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Seven people were hurt and one was missing on Thursday after fire swept through a building housing private radio and television stations in northern Serbia.

The chief editor of Duga television told reporters that a woman who was in the building when the fire broke out was still unaccounted for.

Before containing the blaze, which swept through the top six floors of the 13-storey building, firemen evacuated three injured people from the building, in the center of Serbia's second city Novi Sad, and were taken to hospital.

The top floors housed the offices of independent radio 021, two private television stations and the correspondents for Montenegrin television and the independent daily Danas.

The cause of the fire not immediately known. However Nenad Canak, an opposition party leader in Vojvodina province, told reporters: "It's symptomatic that it happened in the offices of the only independent electronic media in Novi Sad."

Police sealed off the center of the city where the fire was located as thousands of people milled around the building. There was no immediate statement from police.

In another case of independent media facing difficulties, a magistrate in the southern city of Nis fined the founder and the chief editor of a local opposition newspaper for offending the Yugoslav army.

The army filed charges against the paper for publishing a statement by the head of the city's opposition-run local government in which he alleged the army was stepping up mobilization.

It was the latest in a line of non-government media that have been either heavily fined or closed down under Serbia's strict information law, seen by the opposition as a crackdown by President Slobodan Milosevic against media outside his control.

Branislav Jovanovic of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement was quoted by Narodne Novine in February as telling a news conference that call-ups were being sent in large numbers.

His claim came amid Western concern over a worsening situation in southern Serbia, bordering troubled Kosovo province, and reports the army was massing troops in the region.

The court ordered the Infonis company, publisher of Narodne Novine, and Miroslav Zupanjevac, its chief editor, to pay 400,000 dinars ($10,000 under the black market exchange rate).

Original article