State Department supports closure of Kosovo newspaper office

PRISTINA, Jun 8, 2000 -- (AFP) The United States expressed its support Wednesday for the UN Kosovo administration's temporary closure of an Albanian-language newspaper alleged to have incited the murder of a Serb UN worker.

The State Department office in Pristina issued a statement saying Washington "fully supports" the decision by UN administrator Bernard Kouchner to shut the daily Dita last week after its publisher pledged to continue accusing Serbs.

"While freedom of the press and freedom of speech are basic American values, articles by Dita have clearly crossed the important line of incitement to violence," the statement said.

"With inter-ethnic tensions high and violent incidents recurring, press reporting that threatens the lives of individuals cannot be tolerated," it said.

The U.S. office described the closure as "necessary to stop the inflammatory articles that serve only to provoke more violence in the troubled province."

The statement, dated June 5, came after a more than a week of anti-Serb attacks which have left eight Serbs dead and more than a dozen injured.

Kouchner sent UN police to close Dita's offices -- in a building sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- for eight days last Saturday, citing security concerns.

The move provoked protest from the press, who said it brought back memories of the oppressive Yugoslav regime, and drew only muted support from the OSCE itself.

Dita published an article late April containing accusations by unnamed neighbours of UN employee Petar Topoljski's worked as a paramilitary last year during Belgrade's crackdown on Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

It printed Topoljski's photo, address and listed his movements.

Less than two weeks after the article appeared, Topoljski was kidnapped. A week later his body was found near Pristina, stabbed to death.

After the killing the paper's publisher, Behlul Becaj, accused the UN mission of failing to screen its workers adequately and vowed to keep on publishing lists of Serbs suspected of crimes against ethnic Albanians.

On Sunday he reiterated his intention to issue more names after the eight-day ban expires.

Original article