In Belgrade yesterday, British and Canadian diplomats met with four of their nationals detained in Yugoslavia on suspicion of terrorism more than a week ago. [includes rush transcript]
The Yugoslav army said it had detained the four men on the border between Yugoslavia’s small coastal republic of Montenegro and Kosovo overnight between August 1 and 2.
It has alleged the four men committed several crimes, including attempted terrorism. They have denied all the charges.
The two Britons are police officers and were working in Kosovo as part of the UN mission there training the new Kosovo police force. Western officials say the four were traveling to Montenegro on vacation. Yet, Yugoslav authorities point out that they did not have visas, and when they were arrested, they were discovered to have components for making explosives.
- Katya Subasic, an independent journalist in Belgrade covering this case.
AMY GOODMAN: In Belgrade yesterday, British and Canadian diplomats met with four of their nationals detained in Yugoslavia on suspicion of terrorism more than a week ago. The Yugoslav army said it had detained the four men on the border between Yugoslavia’s small coastal republic of Montenegro and Kosovo overnight between August 1st and 2nd. It’s alleged the four men committed several crimes, including attempted terrorism. They’ve all denied the charges.
The two Britons are police officers and were working in Kosovo as part of the UN mission there, training the new Kosovo police force. Western officials say the four were traveling to Montenegro on vacation. Yet Yugoslav authorities point out they did not have visas. When they were arrested, they were discovered to have components for making explosives.
We go right now to Katya Subasic. She is an independent journalist in Belgrade covering the case. Welcome to Democracy Now!
KATYA SUBASIC: Thank you.
Who are these four men?
KATYA SUBASIC: Well, two Britons and two Canadians — Adrian Pragnell, John Yore, Shaun Going, and Liam Hall — were apparently detained after they were going back from their vacation in Montenegro. That’s what they were saying, and we’ve heard that from their lawyers. And now the investigation was continued today. And the lawyers said, after three soldiers were heard in front of the investigative judge, that there were no bases anymore to accuse the four of resisting arrest, because the soldiers admitted that actually the four were fighting at the moment of the arrest, and they didn’t resist arrest at all.
So the charges of terrorism were still to be investigated, but basically the lawyers stated that there were no bases to charge them with that. They said they expect the investigation to be over early next week, and then the prosecutor will have two weeks, according to the Yugoslav law, to decide whether he will file charges against the four or not.
Katya Subasic, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, I want to ask what the Yugoslav government is alleging that they’re a part of, but then also ask you about to the elections that are coming up in Yugoslavia and Milosevic’s role in them. After that, we’re going to be talking about the decision to strip Pinochet of immunity in Chile. And then we’ll go to the Reform Party. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers, as we remain in Belgrade for a few minutes with Katya Subasic, who is a freelance reporter covering this development, where four men, two from Britain, who were working in Kosovo as part of the UN mission, were just arrested in Yugoslavia. The authorities there say they were found to have components for making explosives. Katya Subasic, is the government alleging that they’re moving from Kosovo into taking over Yugoslavia?
Well, actually, the government is much a side of this whole case. The military has taken over the case, and we are getting very small amount of information, obviously, information in the case.
What is the case here is that basically the four apparently entered the rest of the country without a proper visa. It is true, though, that the Montenegro government allows foreigners to enter their territory without visa from time to time, but if army caught foreigners without visa, they have right to detain them and then to bring them to the court or to the — at least to the investigative judge.
Montenegro is, as you probably know, a junior partner of Serbia in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and their leadership is opposing to Yugoslavian President, Slobodan Milosevic. So this is why the tension exists between Serbia and Montenegro and between Yugoslavian army and Montenegro, in fact.
Have there been any acts of terrorism or sabotage within Yugoslavia since the war ended?
Acts of terrorism, well, there were — the Yugoslav government presented a number of groups of foreigners and Serbs, as well, claiming they were preparing terrorist attacks and plotting to kill President Milosevic. I would like to remind you that late last year, in November, I think, it was five men, a group called Spider, was caught in Serbia proper and government claims that they were plotting to kill President Milosevic.
Later on, there were a few more such groups, and recently, just the day before the two Britons and two Canadians were arrested, Yugoslav, Information Minister Goran Matic announced that Yugoslavia security forces had arrested four Dutchmen, accusing them of plotting to kidnap or kill President Milosevic and planning some terrorist attacks on territory of Yugoslavia. But there were no evidence, so far, of that, and only that Spider group is under the trial right now. But there were no mention of their plans to kill president. Actually, they are tried only for spying on behalf of France and of killing two Albanians in Kosovo during the NATO bombing campaign.
Katya Subasic, what about the September elections that are coming up? Milosevic is running again. And what about the opponent who has just emerged?
Well, opposition has managed to divide among themselves once again, which was not surprise, actually, because that’s something which has been happening for ten years in this country. So the opposition nominated two candidates, actually, to run against Milosevic in these elections, which will rise Milosevic’s chances to win again, although some analysts would say that there is still a chance that Milosevic might lose those elections if turnout would be big and if in the second round, in run-off, opposition candidate, opposition would support only one candidate and stand behind him and actually advise voters to support only that opposition candidate.
And those two candidates?
Candidate is of fifteen opposition parties. The most relevant opposition party, Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who is also known as a very outspoken critic of Western policy towards Balkans. But he is also veteran opponent of Slobodan Milosevic. However, Vuk Draskovic and his Serbian Renewal Movement, who split from the rest of the opposition, have nominated their own candidate, which is not-very-well-known mayor of Belgrade, Vojislav Mihajlovic, and they were criticized by the rest of opposition and also by the non-government groups, that they actually spoiled Kostunica’s chances to challenge, to make a real challenge to Slobodan Milosevic in the elections.
Are our elections being covered much? You have Clinton who presided over — Clinton-Gore, who presided over the bombing of Yugoslavia.
Yeah, well, here, of course, the elections are the main topic. I mean, the arrest of the four Westerners was covered just in independent media or in those who still remain independent, but the elections is the main topic here, and everybody —
I mean our elections in the United States.
Your elections? No. No. I don’t think so. I think we have so many things here to worry about. The people actually don’t have time to think a lot about your elections, although there were all the time rumors rolling around the town in Belgrade that Milosevic is hoping that Mr. Bush will win, which recalls to him memories at the time when his father was president of the United States and when the policy of the United States, in the opinion of Mr. Milosevic, of course, was much more in favor of his politics than Mr. Clinton’s one.
And finally, how has the infrastructure, has the government been able to deal with the infrastructure of Yugoslavia since the war? Are conditions getting better for people, or are they still having major fundamental problems?
Well, actually, we have two pictures of life after the war. One is Milosevic’s radio and television of Serbia, which broadcasts every evening in their primetime news program huge renewal successes, showing a number of bridges, new flags, and other economic success in the country.
The truth is that people still live very, very hard, and there is no money, there is no — there is no basic — some basic food like sugar and oil and bread, because government is trying to keep prices controlled. And this is why people are facing with problems how to survive.
The truth is that we have to admit that the government has managed to renew some bridges, though the opponents would say that’s only two or three percent of the total damage that was made by made NATO during the bombing campaign.
What about, finally, the crackdown on the media, the closing of B292, independent media? You’re a freelance journalist.
Yeah, well, the problem is that it is so far — it’s right now, actually, Mr. Milosevic for a moment stopped his offensive against independent media, though all independent journalists in Belgrade expect new offensive ahead the elections.
In Belgrade is the worst situation right now, since B292 can be heard only by satellite or internet. There is no independent electronic media, other independent or electronic media to be heard in Belgrade, and there are only two or three daily newspapers remained, in addition with two weeklies. But that’s not enough, certainly for the capital of Yugoslavia, which has more than two million citizens.
And it is very hard, though, to find independent information and to figure out what’s going on in the country. All TV stations here in Belgrade broadcast either government-controlled news or only some entertainment program like famous TV series or movies and so on.
I want to thank you for being with, Katya Subasic, a freelance reporter, independent journalist, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Thank you.