Assault on the Serbs: `Armed police came for me at 2am'

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The Independent Online
THE SERBIAN security forces came for me after midnight yesterday.

Armed men - special forces and policemen in uniform and plain clothes - began sweeping the Grand Hotel in Pristina, where the foreign media have been based, not long after the air strikes began.

They were going from room to room, trying to bang down the doors with their rifle butts. I understand that they were looking for specific foreign journalists, rather than just trying to take people at random.

When they came to my door, there were three armed men, two with sub-machine- guns, who insisted that I accompany them to reception. My visa and accreditation for Yugoslavia were both revoked, and they tried to make me leave the country then and there.

It was 2am: the air strikes were still going on and the streets were deserted. I pointed out that it would not be safe. They didn't seem too concerned about that, but eventually agreed that I could remain in the hotel overnight and leave at dawn.

I didn't feel that there was a serious threat. It was more an attempt at intimidation. Other foreign journalists had been threatened by armed Serb civilians - one actually beaten - so we had been expecting an escalation in the tension.

We're not quite sure why they chose the people that they chose. Certainly I was selected, with some other colleagues, a Spanish newspaper journalist and our colleagues from CNN; they had their equipment seized as well as their passports, which had not been returned when I left Pristina. We can only assume that our hosts had been unhappy with the coverage by certain news organisations.

The Yugoslav authorities have now declared war. They are telling us that they regard journalists, particularly those from Nato countries, as hostile enemies, and that we can expect to be treated as such. They have not yet expelled the entire press corps in Pristina, but as we were leaving, other people were having their visas revoked.

Certainly, freedom of movement has been severely restricted and our ability to find out what's actually going on in the country has been reduced.

Orla Guerin is the BBC's Southern Europe Correspondent.

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