CEOL
Independent Serb media ask help EU

BRUSSELS, May 22, 2000 -- (Reuters) Independent Serbian journalists told the European Union on Friday they needed urgent help to prevent a crackdown by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic gagging what remained of the free press in Belgrade.

The journalists, who flew to Brussels after the closure of the independent television station Studio B prompted street protests in Belgrade, all brought the same message to talks with the EU and the International Federation of Journalists.

"Without urgent material help we won't be able to survive," Gordan Susa, head of the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia, told a meeting with EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Another senior Serbian journalist, Radomir Diklic, added: "We're not asking for anything out of proportion...It's now or never for us."

Dragan Kojadinovic, chief editor of Studio B, was also among about 20 leading radio, television and newspaper journalists who made the trip to Brussels.

He urged the EU to provide funds so that the journalists who had been working at his station until its closure could start broadcasting from other locations.

There was no immediate response from Solana or Patten beyond words of moral and political support, although they acknowledged the need for practical assistance.

They regard Milosevic as the main obstacle to democracy and stability in the Balkans and have shaped an EU policy designed to isolate him and encourage the democratic opposition and the independent media.

CRACKDOWN HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS

The meeting, intended to show solidarity with the independent media and look for ways to help them, was arranged before the latest crackdown in Serbia but Wednesday's raids highlighted the growing problems the media face.

The seizure of Studio B was the harshest crackdown on non-government media to date by the leftist nationalist authorities led by Milosevic.

Riot police used teargas and batons on Thursday to break up an anti-government rally in Belgrade which was prompted by the media crackdown, but the opposition has said it will hold more protest rallies.

Solana and Patten have been trying to improve the EU's often-criticized policy in the Balkans, including promising to deliver aid more quickly to the region.

But the comments made by the Serbian journalists at the start of Friday's meeting made clear they were not fully satisfied with the EU's efforts.

Solana also held talks on Friday with a delegation of Serbs, led by Kosovo Serb Archbishop Artemije, who are cooperating with the international community in Kosovo.

Many local Serbs, who are vastly outnumbered in Kosovo by ethnic Albanians, refuse to cooperate and Solana intended Friday's talks to encourage more to work with the international community.



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