Liberation of Kosovo: Albanian leadership - Newspaper chief to come out of hiding

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The Independent Online
THE PUBLISHERS of the Kosovar Albanian daily Koha Ditore, Veton Surroi, seen by some as a future leader of the province, has spoken from his hiding place in Pristina, where he has spent the past three months avoiding the Serbian military machine.

"I am fine. I am planning to circulate in the city tomorrow," he said in a brief telephone conversation yesterday which was deliberately vague and coded, because of the danger of wire-tapping and the hostility of the Belgrade regime.

Mr Surroi, described as a modernising independent, was a member of the Albanian delegation at the Rambouillet peace talks but is not connected to either the Kosovo Liberation Army or to Ibrahim Rugova's League for a Democratic Kosovo.

Many urban Kosovars see him as a potential president, an entrepreneurial intellectual who promotes democracy and plurality and understands how to do business with the West. He has created a publishing empire with Koha Ditore (Daily Times) which - before the Serbian assault of the past three months - included an online and an English-language daily edition.

Before the war the newspaper suffered constant harassment. Its journalists were frequently detained and it was often heavily fined for its articles. Just days before the bombing, Koha Ditore and its editor, Baton Haxhiu, were convicted of publishing information that "incited hatred between nationalities". The paper was fined 420,000 dinars (pounds 16,750) and Mr Haxhiu 110,000 dinars (pounds 4,500).

Serbian hostility to the newspaper was heightened by the fact that its offices were the first port of call for foreign journalists, who frequently interviewed Mr Surroi and Mr Haxhiu.

The Koha Ditore printing plant was burned down by Serbian forces almost as soon as Western verifiers withdrew from Pristina in March. On the night the Nato bombing began, the newspaper's offices were destroyed and the doorman murdered. Soon afterwardsthe paper's lawyer, Bajram Kelmendi, was also killed. A number of journalists may have suffered the same fate.

Mr Surroi is said to be under the protection of British Nato forces in Pristina.

Printing of Koha Ditore began again in Macedonia in April, under Mr Haxhiu, who went into hiding in Pristina at the start of the Nato bombing before escaping over the border. According to a report from Human Rights Watch, 2,000 copies of the paper were distributed inside Kosovo yesterday.

When The Independent interviewed Mr Surroi's wife, Dita, in Macedonia last month, she described how the Surroi apartment in Pristina had been occupied by the Serbs. Neighbours who went to see what was going on "got rifles in their faces and the threat: `If you come back you'll get a bullet in the head.'"

The son of Rexhai Surroi, a Yugoslav diplomat, Veton was born in Pristina but was educated around the world, including taking a degree in literary criticism at Mexico's Autonomous University. He is fluent in several languages including English and French.

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