Assault On The Serbs: Serb security men give marching orders to press

The Media
Click to follow
YESTERDAY WAS tense for foreign journalists in Yuguslavia, many of whom were forced to leave the country by unofficial threats and the sudden application of Draconian new laws on the media.

The "state of imminent threat of war", which Yugoslavia declared on Wednesday, was upgraded during the night to a maximum state of emergency - the "state of war". According to the federal constitution this gives the government the right to curtail civil liberties.

The initial sign of trouble for journalists came soon after the first air strikes struck Yugoslavia on Wednesday evening, when 20 people, mostly cameramen and photographers, were taken away by uniformed police from their rooms at Belgrade's Hyatt Hotel. They were detained for several hours but were then later released.

The police then went to the rooms of several journalists during the night and ordered at least seven to get out of Yugoslavia immediately. The police were polite but firm in their demand for the foreign press to leave Yugoslavia.

The Information Ministry in Belgrade said it was expelling journalists "from countries which have participated or whose territory was used in the aggression by Nato forces on our country.

"This is because their reporting from the territory of the Republic of Serbia instigated the aggressive activities of Nato forces aimed at destroying the constitutional order and the territorial integrity and the independence of ... Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as for misinforming the world public about the current situation in our country.

The decree, which "takes effect immediately," was signed by the Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party. The decree generated some confusion after some federal officials claimed it applied only to Serbia, not the whole of Yugoslavia. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia comprises two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

Serbia's heavy-handed security forces had already intimidated foreign reporters into leaving Kosovo. The BBC southern Europe correspondent Orla Guerin described how armed members of the special forces and police in uniforms swept through the rooms of the Grand Hotel in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, in the middle of the night. "They were going from room to room, trying to bang down the doors with their rifle butts," she said, after leaving Pristina for the Macedonian capital, Skopje. "They were looking for specific foreign journalists. When they came to my door, there were three armed men, two with machine guns, who insisted that I accompany them to the hotel reception. My visa and accreditation for Yugoslavia were both revoked, and they tried to make me leave the country then and there. At that stage it was about 2am."

Ms Guerin described how other foreign journalists had been threatened by armed Serbian civilians, beaten up and had their cameras smashed. "The Yugoslav authorities have now declared war. They are now telling us that they regard journalists, particularly those from Nato countries, as hostile enemies, and that we can expect to be treated as such."

The enforced departure of the foreign press has raised fears that the Serb forces may be on the brink of committing further atrocities, which they are determined to prevent the outside world from seeing.

t A veteran BBC foreign correspondent yesterday accused the corporation of being "weak-kneed" after executives pulled a Radio 4 programme about daily life in Serbia. Tim Llewelyn, the BBC's former Middle Eastern correspondent, was reacting to the decision by the Radio 4 controller James Boyle to block an edition of Crossing Continents that had quizzed ordinary Serbs.

It is understood that Mr Boyle had not listened to the programme before deciding it had been overtaken by events. According to a Radio 4 spokeswoman, it no longer reflected the reality of what was happening on the ground. Mr Llewelyn, who now works as a freelance, said: "I'm almost at the point of not wanting to work for the BBC again."