WED, 20 APR 1994 20:52:01 GMT
Hunting foreign correspondents in Serbia
AIM, BEOGRAD, APRIL 16, 94
Michael Montgomery, correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph" was arrested in Zvornik, on his way to Belgrade from the Serbian - Bosnian capital of Pale. For two days his colleagues, foreign correspondents tried to get him out through private channels, but without success. Montgomery reappeared only on Saturday afternoon, when a group of journalists was just about to go by car to Mali Zvornik (separated from the Republic of Srpska only by a bridge) and to wait persistently for the release of the journalist there.
Foreign correspondents have been uneasy for some days now because of the decision of the Federal Minister of Information, Slobodan Ignjatovic to recall the accreditations of the France Press journalists (four correspondents) and CNN (three journalists). They were disquieted to learn that there was a list of those "waging a frenzied media war, precisely from our territory", and that some other foreign correspondents would fare similar. The news that they had proceeded from words to deeds ( Montgomery's arrest ) only added fuel to the fire, caused mild panic in the Association of Foreign Journalists in Belgrade, additional concern for Michael's personal security, as well as for one's own.
Lora Sylber, correspondent of the "Financial Times" from Belgrade, briefly described the history of his disappearance until the moment he suddenly showed up.
She talked with Michael by phone on Tuesday, April 12 on Pale, and according to her testimony this journalist was very worried because of the way he was being treated, because he was being followed and openly showed that he no longer enjoyed the protection of the official authorities. He believed that something strange was happening and warned her: If I don't show up by twelve noon on Friday, start worrying.
Since Friday noon a group of foreign correspondents could not make up their mind whether to publish his disappearance or wait a bit more, concerned over his personal security. Lora Sylber, in a talk with Sonja Karadzic, daughter of Radovan Karadzic (in charge of information in the Republic of Srpska), met with a harsh retort: "I don't know the man, and if he was arrested, there is surely a good reason for that."
A lot of hope was placed in John (Jovan) Zametica, Karadzic's advisor, believed to have much influence on Serbian policy among foreign reporters. In a phone call he undertook to help Montgomery on condition that the world public not be informed. Confirmation that he had been arrested in Zvornik was received from col. Kuljanin, and Jovan Zametica's mood changed every moment. First, he assured a group of foreign journalists that everything had been cleared up and that Michael should show up in Belgrade any moment, to end up with the statement: "Don't call me again, I cannot help".
Michael's return calmed the spirits to a certain extent, but foreign reporters continue to ask themselves who is next and try to solve the dilemma: is this only retaliation for the bombing of Gorazde or a campaign pursued with the ultimate aim of destroying the domestic independent media and domestic journalists incriminated as "traitors of the Serbian people", which would lead to the informative "strangling" of Serbia and its total isolation.
We learned unofficially that the prohibition of work of foreign journalists was discussed at the recent dinner of Slobodan Milosevic and Lord Owen, and that Milosevic agreed with Owen's appraisal, namely that something which should not have happened was in question. Sergey Grizunov, journalist of the Russian News Agency "Novosti" learned in personal contact with Minister Ignjatovic that there would not be any "pardon" for the listed foreign journalists. Grizunov asked whether the work of the domestic independent media would be prohibited, and got the reply: We will see about that later.
Other foreign reporters also on the notorious secret list for "elimination" also felt on their skin the need of the authorities in power to be in constant conflict with the world. The accreditives were also revoked of Jonathan Landay (The Christian Science Monitor); Arens Van Linden (Sky News), Florance Artman (Le Mond), Ela Jurikova (Radio Free Europe - Democracy) while the correspondent of the Austrian Die Presse, Oliver Vujovic was called by phone to come to the Ministry to get his "prohibition to work" in writing.
Vujovic says for AIM:
- I have been with the "Die Presse" since 1991 and I never had any problems, not even threats by phone. I don't know what will happen now, but I am convinced that the authorities in power will not go to the end and prohibit the independent domestic media. I think that this is a political reply to the bombardment of Gorazde. I will continue to report from other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
The domestic public is completely divided in its reactions - everything is either black or white, as in the case of other political events.
The Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia emphatically protested, being of the opinion that the preventing of any foreign or domestic correspondent from working was in contravention of the basic rights to information and that it leads to isolation. On behalf of the official state Association of Journalists of Serbia, Kosta Kraincanic stated that this decision should have been brought a long time ago, because it is "almost impossible to enumerate all the lies they sent from here to the world during the past three years". The deputies of the largest opposition party in Serbia (SPO), together with the deputies of the Social-Democratic Party of Montenegro launched the initiative for the federal Government to relieve Minister Ignjatovic of office. The ultranationalist, Vojislav Seselj, thinks that it is good that the accreditation of these journalists has been revoked, despite the fact that he gave interviews to them hismelf. The Democratic Party (Miodrag Perisic) believes that the decision is out of place and too late, because the damage caused is irreparable.
Brana Crncevic (SPS) said: "Hospitality was denied them because they did everything in their power against one side in the war - against the Serbs". The Movement for the Protection of Human Rights sees this decision as an act of insane oppression, and the League of Social-Democrats of Vojvodina says: "It is only normal that journalists write things as they see them. Did someone expect that Mr. Milosevic should inspect and sign their reports?". They added that the truth cannot be hidden and that Mr. Milosevic should be presented the book: "King Trajan's Goat Ears".
Reactions were not so strong when the authorities revoked the accreditation of the renowned English journalist, Desa Trevisan, nor of the KUNA correspondent.
Before them, Jamil Rafael, correspondent of the London "Al Hayat" and associate of Radio Monte Carlo was driven away. He was just called to the police station, where a red stamp was affixed to his passport. His colleague, Hassan Sirli, correspondent of the Palestinian Press Agency, says for AIM: "Even then I believed that the turn of every one of us would come, but the reactions of foreign journalists were not turbulent then, as if someone unimportant were in question. The President of the Association, Juan Fernandez Eloriyaga, wrote a letter to Minister IgnjatoviS, but the Minister would not even receive us. If something had been done then, perhaps Ignjatovic would not have so easily decided on a broad campaign now. How things stand, no one is safe any more".
If all foreign journalists and the domestic independent media are denied their right to work, the citizens of Serbia have in store total isolation, an information ghetto in which only "TV Bastille", as the state TV of Serbia is called, will reign. This will be the official explanation for the hatred of the whole world towards the "celestial people". The persecution of unlike-minded journalists will become an issue of national dignity and interest. What else could authorities who have defeated their own people resort to, and are aware that the citizens of Serbia must not find that out?