Kosovo paper snubs closure order, OSCE powerless

PRISTINA, Aug 2, 2000 -- (AFP) A Kosovo newspaper accused of promoting ethnic hatred and vigilante justice on Tuesday defied an order from the province's UN administration to cease publication.

Dita, an Albanian-language daily, was on Kosovo newsstands Tuesday after failing to appear Saturday and Monday following an order from the province's UN media commissioner to suspend publication until a 25,000 mark fine was paid.

But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which runs the commissioner's office, was powerless to act, an OSCE spokesman said.

Roland Bless said that the commissioner who had issued the closure order, and threatened to send police in to seal the paper's offices, had left Kosovo.

"We have no media commissioner, the post is vacant," he said.

The previous commissioner, Douglas Davidson, slapped the fine on Dita after it refused to stop naming Serbs it suspected of carrying out atrocities during the province's 1998-1999 civil war.

He had left his post at the end of a fixed-term placement and has not yet been replaced, Bless said. The responsibility for naming the commissioner belongs to Bernard Kouchner, Kosovo's chief United Nations administrator.

Gjylie Rexha, Dita's deputy editor, told AFP that the newspaper would continue to publish while negotiating with the OSCE.

"We have started publishing again because we want to give the OSCE a chance to find a compromise," she said.

She described the fine as a "technical problem" and said the paper had been in discussions Tuesday with the OSCE but had been given no permission to restart its presses.

"The police have not been here," she added.

Dita has taken a strong line on Serbs it believes committed atrocities against Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian population, arguing that the legal system has not done enough to track them down.

Kosovo's UN administration accuses it in turn of endangering Serb's lives by exposing them to revenge attacks.

Thursday's closure order was the fourth time in two months that Dita had fallen foul of Kosovo's temporary media law, which was drawn up in June partly in response to the paper's actions.

In June it was shut down for 10 days on Kouchner's orders after Petar Topoljski, a Serbian UN worker whom Dita had branded a war criminal, was found murdered.

The paper had published a photograph of Topoljksi, the address of his workplace and the route he took to get there around 10 days before he disappeared.

In mid July Davidson forced the paper to give another Serb accused of ethnic violence the right of reply, and on July 21 the 25,000 mark fine was imposed after it published a group photograph of 15 Serbs it said had been members of an extremist paramilitary group.

Tuesday's edition identified no new Serb suspects, but Dita's publisher Behlul Bekaj, has said that it is ready to do so.

Original article