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Thursday, March 25, 1999 Published at 17:52 GMT

World: Europe

Confusion over Serbian expulsions

The Serbs accuse Western journalists of lacking objectivity

There was confusion on Thursday over Serbia's decision to expel journalists belonging to Nato countries.

Kosovo: Special Report
The Information Ministry said reporters were ''misinforming the world'' and must leave immediately.

The statement - which was faxed to Associated Press in Pristina - was signed by Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party.

The journalists covered by the order were reported to be leaving the country. All BBC staff are on their way out.

But Vuk Draskovic, deputy prime minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, said he did not support the Serbian decree.

"Welcome to stay"

The BBC's Ben Brown, now in Macedonia, recalls "a terrifying, intimidating, ugly atmosphere" in Kosovo
Journalists were trying to establish exactly where they stood in the wake of the initial Serbian order. The Yugoslav federal government issues visas for foreigners to work and live in the country. It also provides media accreditations.

At a Belgrade news conference Mr Draskovic said: "This is not the stand of Yugoslavia. We do not support this stand."

Mr Draskovic repeatedly reassured foreign reporters they were welcome to stay and he told them he would guarantee they could work unhindered.

"We need you. We need the truth. We need you as a window to Western public opinion. Our enemies are those Western leaders who perpetrated the aggression."

'Journalists needed'

He apologised for any pressure journalists had faced, but said he was unaware of arrests, deportations or the confiscation of television equipment which occurred on Wednesday.

The Serbian backed expulsion was ordered "because they, by their reporting from the territory of the Republic of Serbia, strengthened the aggressive acts of Nato forces aimed at violent destruction of ... the territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia," said the Information ministry statement.

Serbia's order did not affect Montenegro, its more liberal, small sister republic in the Yugoslav federation.

Earlier, at least five journalists were reported to have been declared persona non grata in Kosovo.

Passports seized

The BBC's Orla Guerin was expelled, after being rounded up at gunpoint with other journalists in her hotel in Pristina in the early hours. She crossed into the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on Thursday morning.

Officials also seized the passports of two CNN journalists and one freelance reporter, Juliet Terzieff, authorities said. The CNN staff were told to leave Pristina by midday.

As the Nato air strikes began, some 20 journalists watching the attacks from the roof of their hotel in Belgrade were detained for several hours by uniformed police.

Armed police later moved through the same hotel and several journalists were told politely, but firmly, that they had to leave.

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