UN readies emergency law for Kosovo press

PRISTINA, Jun 6, 2000 -- (Reuters) United Nations administrators in Kosovo are drafting an emergency law to stamp out "vigilante journalism" in the local press, a UN spokeswoman said on Monday.

The decision follows the stabbing of Serb UN translator Petar Topoljski just days after an ethnic Albanian newspaper had accused him of belonging to a Serb paramilitary unit that had instilled terror in the province last year.

Dita daily has refused to apologize for the article, infuriating the UN chief administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, who on Saturday ordered that the newspaper be shut down for eight days.

By the time the ban is over, the new rules should be ready.

"We are in the process of finalizing some emergency legislation," UN spokeswoman Nadia Younes told reporters.

She said it would prevent papers from publishing attacks "which could pose a serious threat to the life, safety and security" of people suspected or accused of war crimes.

"It is not a question of censoring the media, but it is a very narrow, temporary measure," Younes said, declining to give further details.

Kosovo's Albanian newspapers have berated Kouchner for cracking down on Dita, arguing that if the UN had acted faster to set up a comprehensive criminal justice system, they would not feel compelled to print their allegations.


"It seems to me that if Mr Kouchner wanted to convey a message in favor of tolerance and against ethnic violence, then in fact, he has done quite the opposite," wrote Veton Surroi, the editor of leading Koha Ditore newspaper.

Dita itself has said that it plans to sue Kouchner for decreeing the closure of its offices.

The UN, backed up by KFOR peacekeepers, has been struggling to establish the rule of law in Kosovo since seizing control of the province from Yugoslavia one year ago.

While wanting to draw a curtain on the years of Belgrade repression, international officials say that Western ideals about freedom of the press must be tempered by fears that virulent newspaper vendettas could prevent peace from taking root here.

Dita, which is closely linked to Kosovo Albanian leader Hashim Thaci, wrote to Kouchner last month to say that it would continue to publish accusations against individuals, such as the infamous article on Topoljski.

Dita said 25-year-old Topoljski had been active in a group which had robbed, looted and expelled Albanians from their houses in Pristina during last year's NATO bombing raids.

It not only printed his photograph, but also gave details of his place of work and movements.

"The first place for such accusations should always be the police," Younes said.

A year on from the end of the NATO air campaign, only one war crimes case in Kosovo has so far come to court. No verdict has yet been reached in that trial.

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