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31. 12. 2018.

???source???: UNS

Reaction of the European Federation of Journalists, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the Government of the Republic of Serbia to the UNS’s investigation into the murdered and kidnapped journalists in Kosovo

The investigation into the kidnapping of Ljubomir Knezevic, journalist of Pristina's "Jedinstvo" and "Politika", has been stopped.

There are witnesses of the kidnapping of Aleksandar Simovic Sima, but the kidnappers and murderers are at large.

EULEX staff members believe Nazim Bllaca, who is now their protected witness, to be behind the murder of journalist Xhemail Mustafa.

KFOR intelligence service has refused to hand over documents about the investigation of the murder of journalist Enver Maloku to UNMIK.

The murder of Momir Stokic has been reported to UNMIK Police. There has never been an investigation and the complaint "disappeared" from their archives.

No investigation into the murder of Afrim Maliqi, a journalist of the newspaper "Bujku", either.

The Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS) has added Professor Shaban Hoti, who was a part of the Russian state television journalist team, to the list of murdered and kidnapped journalists. He was killed in Lapusnik, in July 1998.

These are only some of the UNS’s findings presented to the public in the past year on the investigations of the murders and kidnappings of 15 journalists in KiM, about which almost nothing was known.

Last year, the Assembly of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) adopted the Resolution on investigations into murders of journalists in Kosovo on the initiative of the UNS. The names of the 14 Serbian and Albanian colleagues, journalists and media workers murdered and kidnapped in Kosovo and Metohija from 1998 to 2005 have been published on the Council of Europe's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists. 

The Government of the Republic of Serbia passed a decision extending the remit of the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists to the cases of murders and disappearances of journalists in KiM in the period 1998 - 2001. This decision was passed just after the publication of the results of the UNS’s investigation. The UNS’s texts in Albanian, Serbian and English were published by the media in Pristina, Belgrade and EU countries. In 2018, this investigation encouraged other colleagues to make contributions and features on this topic, especially in Pristina. 

Staggeringly huge success 

Jan Braathu, Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, says that the UNS’s investigation has been a major step forward in bridging the division between journalists belonging to the Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo.

- Dear Mrs. Petkovic, on behalf of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, I would like to express our admiration to and recognition of your professionalism, dedication and determination exhibited over the past few years while reporting on the cases of the murdered and missing journalists in Kosovo between 1998 and 2005. The Mission in Kosovo is committed to improving the safety of journalists and addressing the past violence in order to end impunity and ensure that journalists can work freely and unhindered, in accordance with the principles of the OSCE. You have been investigating in very difficult political and social environment. Moreover, you have largely been alone. Indeed, you have been a pioneer in this regard. Others are now talking about it and following the path that you have forged. Your work is focused on the victims, regardless of ethnicity or politics. In that you have exhibited true professionalism and commitment to high principles regarding the safety of journalists. It's astonishing how you have managed to gain the trust of families of victims, again, regardless of ethnicity. In this you have exhibited humanity, in addition to professionalism. This is a really rare combination. In addition, allow me to express my appreciation for the UNS’s support and commitment in this regard. The UNS has advocated for the rights of journalists and security in a fundamental way. If I'm not mistaken, the UNS has been the first to ensure that the texts on this subject - mainly yours - are translated and published in Serbian, Albanian and English. It has brought the issue of the murdered and missing journalists in Kosovo closer to the international public, and, more importantly, it has made a major step forward in bridging the division between journalists from the Serbian and Albanian communities in Kosovo. This has resulted in a joint resolution, presented and adopted by the European Federation of Journalists. Finally, the OSCE Mission in Kosovo will certainly continue to support your efforts and the efforts of others to resolve the cases of murdered and missing journalists in Kosovo from 1998 to 2005. This is a principled issue, but also the issue of humanity and respect for the families of the murdered and missing journalists - said Jan Braathu, the OSCE Ambassador to Kosovo, about the UNS’s research.  

What did we discover and publish in 2018? 

There was an investigation into the kidnapping of Ljubomir Knezevic, but it was suspended

While investigating the kidnapping of Ljubomir Knezevic, a journalist from Pristina's "Jedinstvo" and a correspondent of Belgrade's "Politika", the UNS discovered that back in 2001, the attorney Stoja Djuricic suspected that he had been kidnapped by a group under the command of Gani Ymeri, the KLA commander in the Vushtrri region. As the representative of the aggrieved parties, she asked for the extension of the then current investigation into the kidnapping of six men and the attempted murder of a Serb civilian before the District Court in Mitrovica against Ymeri. Quite soon after that, the investigation against Ymeri began to crumble due to open murder threats to a protected witness. When the international investigative judge Leonard Assira allowed the investigator to testify instead of the witnesses at the hearing due to these threats, the defense requested his exemption as well as the exemption of the international prosecutor Matti Heinonen. After the threats, the replacement of the prosecutor and the judge, the investigation reached a dead end, and the suspect was released from detention five months later.

Murder of Professor Shaban Hoti

Russian language professor, translator and media worker, Shaban Hoti was captured and murdered, as a part of the Russian state television team that tried to interview KLA members in Lapusnik village, in July 1998. He is the 15th on the list of murdered and kidnapped journalists and media workers in Kosovo. 

Members of the KLA first stopped the vehicle with the Russian state television group on the Pristina-Peja road and then captured them. On 21 July 1998, around 19:30, Russian journalists were released, but not Hoti. Five days later, he was shot at Berisha Mountain. 

Hajrednin Balaj, nicknamed ‘’Shala’’, a guard in the KLA concentration camp Lapusnik, has been convicted before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to 13 years of imprisonment for the murder of Shaban Hoti and eight more civilians.

EULEX knows who is responsible for the murder of Xhemail Mustafa? 

UNS learned that EULEX staff members who had investigated the murder of journalist Xhemail Mustafa believe Nazim Bllaca, an assassin that now enjoys the status of a protected EULEX witness, to be responsible for this crime. Mustafa was killed by two unidentified assailants in front of his apartment in Pristina on 23 November 2000. The UNS’s source, a very credible one based on his/her function in Kosovo, said that EULEX has a lot of information about that murder.

- Bllaca was an assassin who was behind every big, well-paid murder, whether it was ordered by the leading members of the parties formed by the KLA factions, led by Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, or senior Kosovo politicians such as Azem Syla, Gani Geci and Fatmir Limaj. Bllaca committed the most egregious and heinous murders that took place in Kosovo from 1998 to 2005 - the source told the UNS.

Nazim Bllaca’s attorney Burhan Qosha told us to address EULEX for permission to interview Bllaca.  EULEX has not approved the interview. 

Enver Maloku – intelligence interests involved in the investigation

UNS learned that KFOR intelligence service had refused to hand over the documents about the murder of journalist Enver Maloku to UNMIK Central Intelligence Unit and Investigation Unit.

UNMIK investigators received scarce information, and KFOR intelligence service "justified" their actions by explaining that all important data on the murder had already been handed over to the NATO Military Archive. UNMIK addressed the NATO Military Archive; however, it has never received any answers.

At the NATO Headquarters, the UNS requested the data from the Military Archive about all murdered and kidnapped journalists in Kosovo, and particularly insisted on the documents about Maloku’s murder.

- We do not have independent information that confirms these incidents. KFOR was deployed to Kosovo in June 1999 - was NATO’s official reply to the UNS, with the notation that "the archive is being moved at the moment". 

- The background of the killing of journalists in Kosovo is clear - they were a hindrance in million ways. It was a way to discipline the Albanians, as well. First of all, Enver Maloku –Rade Maroevic, who was the editor of the Beta News Agency from Pristina during and after the war, told the UNS. He pointed out that "if the Albanian SHIK (intelligence agency of the KLA during the war) opened their archives, some data might be available."

The UNS also learned that the former head of the KLA command, and then PDK senior official, Azem Syla, threatened to "cut off the head" of the renowned Albanian journalist Mero Baze.

When Baze mentioned the murdered journalist Enver Maloku, Syla implicitly made him aware that "they" did it. In the interview for the UNS, recalling the event, which took place during the Rambouillet negotiations, Baze underlined that, in the context of events, it had not been a murder confession, but an intimidation attempt. 

Murder of journalist Momir Stokuca in Pristina - 19 years without investigation

UNMIK Police received a call that something was happening in Djura Jaksic Street 15 in Pristina, on 21 September 1999. They found the killed Momir Stokuca, a photo reporter and a collaborator of "Politika", on the bedroom floor of the house at that address.

- There were a foreigner and a girl, an interpreter, in the UNMIK Office. He took the bullet out of a drawer and showed it to me. This is the bullet that killed him, he told me. I asked if it was a bullet from my father's gun? He said no. We found that gun in your house. He was shot from another one - Branka Damnjanovic, Momir Stokuca’s sister, described the meeting with an UNMIK investigator when she went to claim Momir's body.

There has never been an investigation, and the data on this case have "disappeared" from the UNMIK Archive, which has been justified to the UNS by "the change in the remit and moving". Neither EULEX, nor the Special Prosecution Office of Kosovo, or the Serbian Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor hold any data on this murder. 

No investigation into the murder of journalist Afrim Maliqi

Early in 2017, the OSCE Mission in Vienna added the name of Afrim Maliqi, a journalist of the newspaper "Bujku", to the list of murdered journalists. He was murdered in Pristina, on 2 December 1998, and the investigation is not being conducted. According to the Kosovo Memory Book of the Belgrade Humanitarian Law Center, Maliqi was killed as a member of the armed formations. According to the KLA records, Maliqi was a member of the 152 Brigade. However, other information indicates that he was killed as a civilian.

- It was indeed very hard to determine whether a person was killed as a journalist, civilian or a member of the armed forces. For us, the most important thing is that he was a media professional, while it is on the local authorities to bring to justice all responsible persons and transparently investigate the circumstances surrounding these murders – the OSCE Mission in Vienna responded to the UNS. 

 Marjan Melonasi: a crime to which the police turned a blind eye

Marjan Melonasi disappeared on 9 September 2000. His mother, Cica Jankovic and his grandfather, Krista Melonasi, who had been the Principal of the School of Internal Affairs in Vucitrn for 13 years, have done everything to find him. 

- All those generations of police officers, who later became members of the KLA and other Albanian structures, had studied in grandfather's school. He went to Hashim Thaci, and he also went to Ramush Haradinaj, but they did not say anything to him. Considering where he had worked, I was firmly convinced that grandfather would be able to find out what happened to my son, no matter what the truth was – Cica Jankovic told the UNS. 

She has said that Marjan’s colleagues at the then newly established Radio Television Kosovo have never called her.

- It is a conspiracy of silence – she underlined. 

- I know that Marjan was being threatened for socializing with Serbs. This is what he told me; however, there may have been other things – Olivera Bernardoni Stojanovic, a friend of Marjan Melonasi, recounts for the UNS. 

- Until the disappearance of Marjan Melonasi, we did not quite understand that the journalists were a target. After him, another friend of ours disappeared. When it comes to investigations, the favorite justification of UNMIK Police was "There are many things going on, you know, there are a lot of problems, you know, we do not have the information, you know, please help us." The point is that they just did not care at all - the journalist Nikola Radisic, who worked for UNMIK Press Service in 1999 and 2000, and works on TV N1 today, recounts for the UNS.

It is important to continue the investigations

Veran Matic, the president of the Commission for the Investigation of Murders of Journalists in Serbia, points out that "it is very important that the UNS continues its investigation because, besides yielding new data, it reminds us of what has not been and had to have been done, or what is not being and must be done ".

- By opening the topic of the missing, kidnapped and murdered journalists in Kosovo, the UNS and Jelena Petkovic, have systematically, by thorough case-by-case investigation, done more than any institution remitted to investigate - both the Serbian institutions and the organizations that have taken responsibility for the security of citizens - KFOR, UNMIK, and EULEX.

They did not even have a list of the murdered and the kidnapped. In many cases there was no investigation, and some investigations were only formally launched and closed without results. Impunity for murdering and kidnapping journalists only leads to the extremization of the journalists’ position. These investigations were launched by institutions. We now have lists of the missing and killed journalists, the collection of data on previous institutional investigations and the formation of cases files both in Serbia and in provisional institutions in Kosovo. Still, the intensity of work on these cases is not satisfactory. The investigations conducted by the UNS and Jelena Petkovic continue to be more dynamic and comprehensive.

They will serve anyone conducting investigative actions. They will make up, at least partially, for all omissions made by institutions in Kosovo. 

Societies in Serbia and Kosovo, journalists and the media must face the harsh facts that the majority of journalists and media workers were murdered and kidnapped within only a few years, and that none of the cases have been resolved. Efforts must be made to prioritize the resolution of these cases. Bridges between the institutions in Kosovo and institutions in Serbia must be established. The data collected by both sides must be consolidated in one place with a clear plan to conduct investigations on both sides in order to maximize the performance. 

It is very important that the UNS continues its investigation, in spite of everything, because apart from yielding new information, it reminds us of what has not been and had to have been done, or what is not being and must be done - concludes Matic. 

Insisting on investigation

In 2018, in addition to interviews with relatives, friends, colleagues and collaborators, the UNS also published interviews with the heads of institutions, with whom it checked the status of investigations.

Drita Hajdari, Prosecutor for the Special Prosecution Office of Kosovo, in an interview for the UNS, wondered how local prosecutors could make up for what the international prosecutors failed to do

UNMIK and EULEX missions with a large number of prosecutors failed to solve murders and abductions of journalists, and now local prosecutors are expected to make up for what the international ones failed to do - she said for the UNS.

In addition, she could not provide more details about the investigations related to the kidnapping of journalist Ljubomir Knezevic and the murder of Enver Maloku because, as she said – they were underway.

As for documents related to the investigation of kidnappings of Djuro Slavuj and Ranko Perenic, the Prosecutor’s Office has not received them from EULEX yet. Hajdari says that, for now, the Prosecutor’s Office does not have any information whatsoever about the murders of Afrim Maliqi, Krist Gegaj, Momir Stokuca, Shefki Popova and Bardhyl Ajeti

It would be good to expand the investigation 

- It is regrettable that so far journalists had not investigated the murdered journalists, but also the others, especially civilians, because the public would have been much better informed about past events. Young generations, both here and in Serbia, and in the region, grow up with a narrative about the past, about the nineties that is not quite true. We have created unilateral narratives that are more based on myths than on facts. It is not only important because the European Federation of Journalists adopted the Resolution, and because the data are available internationally, but it is also very important because of our citizens. Institutions have not addressed this issue to a great extent, and if there are any investigations, information about them never reaches the public. Our citizens remain deprived of the truth. It is absolutely important that you began to investigate kidnappings and murders of journalists and it would be very good to extend your investigation to other civilians, as well. In addition, we will have a very reliable source of information about these events, said one of the interlocutors of the UNS Dossier series, Bekim Blakaj, director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Pristina. 


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