Journalist says former KLA leader threatened to behead him

The former head of the KLA command, and then PDK senior official, Azem Syla, threatened to "cut off the head" from the reputable Albanian journalist Mero Baze.

Source: UNS, Jelena L. Petkovic
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Albanian language emblem of the KLA ('UCK') (Getty Images, file)
Albanian language emblem of the KLA ('UCK') (Getty Images, file)

When Baze mentioned the murdered journalist Enver Maloku, Syla implicitly made him aware that "they" did it. Nevertheless, he underlines that in the context of the event this was not a recognition of murder, but an attempt to intimidate.

Recalling the event, which took place during the second phase of the Rambouillet talks, Baze for the Journalists’ Association of Serbia points out that all the murders of journalists in Kosovo should be classified as political, adding that in Kosovo at that time was "the prevailing perception that a journalist opposing the KLA should be punish. "

Syla was close associate of current Kosovo President Hashim Thaci at the time, and in the report of the International Crisis Group "Who's Who in Kosovo" in 1999, he was described as his uncle.

Threats at the hotel

For the UNS Dossier, the editor of the "Tema” newspaper recalls an incident that took place in 1999 in a hotel in Paris.

- At that time I worked as a reporter for Radio Free Europe and some Albanian newspapers in Tirana, Prishtina and Skopje, where I continually criticized the communist tendencies expressed by some KLA leaders when they emphasized the importance of removing "internal enemies" in Kosovo. A colleague told me that a commander known as "Uncle" wants to see me. It was Azem Syla. During the conversation, he threatened to "cut off my head" if I kept on writing about them. I would not say that I felt really vulnerable, but it turned out that I was right about everything I wrote about them, which is a communist mentality of intolerance not only towards political opponents, but also towards the free press.

"When you threaten me so, you seem to suggest that you have done it to some of my colleagues," I told him, referring to Enver Maloku, who was killed two months earlier. He did not show shame, but he implicitly made it clear that "they" did it. It sounded more like he wanted to give up the previous threat to me, which sounded dangerous, more than admitting that he was the perpetrator of that murder. I told him that one day I will write about it, when Kosovo is free, which I just did in my book "Rambouille: Disagreement for Peace" and through the newspaper article at that time - the journalist from Tirana remembers.

Although he wrote this incident, for the UNS Dossier adds that no institution involved in the investigation of the murder of journalists has contacted him in connection with this incident.

- I had only a contact with Mr. Enver Maloku daughter to whom I sent a copy of my book, which contains a detailed description of this episode. I would like to emphasize that this particular incident should not be understood as a confession of murder, but as a testimony to the dangerous political mentality regarding the murder of "internal enemies", which at the time prevailed among some members of the KLA.

He adds that as a longtime critic of several KLA leaders he was repeatedly threatened.

- I would not attribute all of this to this particular incident. I was also publicly called out during interviews given by some of their leaders to the public TV broadcaster in Tirana in 1999. However, given that I live in Tirana, I was on a safe distance that mitigated such threats.

Creating fear and violence

Baze also says that many of those who criticized him have now changed their attitudes and want to present themselves to the more moderates, "but they still face the dark part of their political history".

The murder of journalist Enver Maloku is one of 14 murders and kidnappings of journalists and media workers during and after the war in Kosovo. To date, it's not known who the killers and kidnappers of our colleagues are.

- All these killings should be classified as political killings solely because of their profession they performed. In Kosovo, there was a prevailing perception that a journalist opposing the KLA should be punished in order to potentially dissuade others who could oppose them. There were murders of highly reputed journalists, as well as less well-known local journalists, which proves that these methods were not so selective, but used to enforce and impose a certain mindset on the free press. Also, there was no elimination of journalists or politicians who supported or were part of the "political factions" within the KLA, other than some of the latest ones that can be attributed mainly to corruption issues.

This shows that the KLA supported the creation of a fear and violent environment towards freedom of the press. Today things are getting better, but the distressing lists of murdered journalists circulating at that time should definitely be clarified once and for all - the UNS interlocutor says.

Enver Maloku was killed on January 11th, 1999 while returning from work, in the afternoon, a few meters from the apartment on the ground floor of the block in the Sunny Hill in which he lived. The murder of this influential person is immediately linked to his professional work and political engagement.

- I did not personally know Mr. Enver Maloku, although we both worked for the newspaper "Rilindja". He covered Kosovo while I was reporting from Tirana. Although I never met him, I always understood him as an exceptional, experienced and productive journalist, who was also a strong supporter of Mr. Ibrahim Rugova and his politics. Personally, I think that this second has led to his later murder - concluded Bases.

More on this topic in the coming days.

Biography

Mero Baza is one of the first generation of journalists from the beginning of a multiparty in Albania. He was the news director of ATSH's (Albanian Telegraphic Agency), president of the Association of Journalists of Albania, a political commentator for the newspaper "Rilindja", a reporter for Voice of America, the founder of the news agency "Enter". He is the author of the book "Albanian-American Reality", a review of delicate reports by the government of former President Sali Berisha of co-operation with the US administration, which led to Berisha's resignation. After Rambouillet he published a book on the influence of Albania in the Kosovo war "Albania and the War in Kosovo" and "Rambouillet, Disagreement for Peace." In July 1999, he founded the "Tema" newspaper, which, among other things, criticized the Socialist Party and the authority of Edi Rama In 2008, he published "Facing Anti-Oppositionism", analyzing anti-opposition political culture in Albania from 1997. to 2002. In 2010, he published his most popular book, "Year 97," a 1997 chaos analysis. It was the best-selling book in 2010. On the TV Vision Plus, he was the author of the "Factor Plus" show until 2010. Today, he continues to run the newspaper "Tema", the most popular online newspaper in the country.

A series of trials and charges

For Azem Syla, the former head of the Kosovo Liberation Army's headquarters, the first defense minister, former deputy in the Kosovo Assembly, the media in Prishtina on several occasions wrote that they will be extradited to the War Crimes Chamber in The Hague for crimes committed in a case known as "Blaca 2". It is a murder and attacks on Albanians seen as associates of Serbian authorities and activists of Rugova's Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (LDK). Swiss "Rundschau" has published that Syla is suspected of investing money, taken as invalidity allowance based on disability due to psychological problems, in mafia affairs in Kosovo. The newspaper stated that he was expelled from Switzerland for conviction for fraud. In April 2016, the International Prosecutor of the Kosovo Special Prosecutor's Office issued two indictments for organized crime and corruption against a criminal group of 38 criminals headed by Syla who acquired property worth 30 million euros. The case "Toka" is being processed before the Basic Court in Pristina, and at the end of February, a new judge was appointed for this case.

The brutal killing of journalist

During 1999, American media wrote about violence against political opponents in Kosovo. Referring to sources among Western diplomats, the New York Times published in June an article stating that high-ranking KLA commanders "carried out murders, arrests and cleansings in their ranks to prevent potential rivals." Among these high-ranking commanders is Azem Syla's name. The "New York Times" also recalls the murder of journalist Ali Uka in June 1997 and states that "the incident that many in the underground guerrilla movement found ominous".

- The reporter, a Kosovo Albanian who had close links to the movement, was found dead in his apartment in Tirana, his face disfigured by repeated stabbings with a screwdriver and the butt end of a broken bottle. The reporter, Ali Uka, was supportive of the rebel movement, but he was independent enough to criticize it. At the time of his death, he was sharing his apartment with Thaci - the New York Times reported.

Ali Uka was a journalist of Gazeta Shqiptare, the first journalist to publish the KLA coat of arms in newspapers. His murder was also never illuminated.

This article originally appeared on the website of the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS)

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