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Yugoslavia: Serbian Journalists Protest Disappearances

Belgrade, 21 October 1998 (RFE/RL) - More than 100 Serbian journalists marched in protest today through downtown Belgrade and appealed to U.S. diplomats to help gain the release of two colleagues missing in Kosovo. A Serbian reporter and a photographer working for the state-run Tanjug news agency disappeared Sunday while on assignment in Kosovo.

Protest organizer Dragan Micic, who also expressed concern about two other Serbian journalists who disappeared in Kosovo last month, said the issue is one of human rights. About 60 Serb journalists participated yesterday in a brief demonstration. Meanwhile today, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has condemned what he termed "armed provocation" by ethnic Albanian separatists in Serbia's Kosovo province, but he says he'll support an agreement to reach a peaceful solution.

The official Tanjug news agency quotes Milosevic as saying that despite what he called attacks by ethnic Albanian groups, Yugoslavia is committed to a peaceful solution of the Kosovo problem by political means.

Milosevic made his comments after meeting last night with NATO supreme commander General Wesley Clark and U.S. officials who were in Belgrade to urge the Yugoslav president to speed up the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo. Reports say some Serb forces have withdrawn but that fighting between Serbs and ethnic Albanians is continuing.

Clark today is due to take part in a NATO Council meeting in Brussels called to discuss the situation in Kosovo. The military alliance has given Milosevic a deadline of October 27 to end hostilities in the province or face the possibility of air strikes.

Also today, the Serbian Parliament overwhelmingly approved a law that sharply restricts the freedom of the media. The measure incorporates into law and expands on the principles set down in a recent government decree that led to the banning of three independent dailies, several independent broadcasters, and the rebroadcast of foreign programs in Serbo-Croatian, including those of RFE/RL.

The government's supporters in the parliament said that the law is necessary to preserve Serbia's sovereignty in the face of "foreign pressures" and efforts by foreigners and their "local servants to spread defeatism." Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic argued that the law will serve to "improve and develop human rights and freedoms [including]...the freedom of access to public information."