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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Journalists Harassed in Kosovo

Russia's Foreign Ministry has issued a strongly worded protest to authorities in the war-torn Yugoslav province of Kosovo after four Russian journalists were taken captive by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.

In the latest incident, three journalists with RTR television's Vesti news program were arrested Monday and had their film confiscated. In a similar incident last Friday, Sergei Mitin, a journalist with the Izvestia daily, was reportedly beaten up by Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas.

Russia has tacitly supported the Serbian government's attempts to suppress the ethnic Albanian rebellion in Kosovo, and opposed international calls for punitive air strikes against Serbia. One Russian diplomat suggested Wednesday that the guerrillas could be specially targeting Russian journalists because of their country's diplomatic stance, though this is rejected by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

According to Vesti's editor, Alexei Abakumov, a car carrying Oleg Safiulin, Alexander Galanov and Viktor Mamayev was stopped by ethnic Albanian gunmen Monday evening.

The journalists were forced out of the car, searched and escorted to a nearby house. After several hours of interrogation they were released, although the four cassettes the crew shot in Kosovo were seized. The group's Serbian interpreter, who the Albanians suspected was an undercover Serbian intelligence agent, is still being held, Abakumov said.

Last Friday, three gunmen wearing KLA uniforms stopped the rental car driven by Mitin, seized the vehicle and took him away for interrogation. Mitin, who was released later the same day, told a group of Russian diplomats in the regional capital, Pristina, that during the interrogation the guerrillas, who suspected him of being a Serbian spy, beat him and pointed a loaded gun at his head.

"They told him: 'You are a Russian and Russians are friends with the Serbs, so you are our enemy,'" said Oleg Buldakov, press attach? of the Russian Embassy in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade.

"On the one hand, the reporters have ignored basic safety rules. On the other hand ... [this incident] may have been an attempt to put pressure on Russian journalists," Buldakov said.

Valery Nesterushkin, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's information department, denied the arrests of Russian journalists were related to anti-Russian hostility.

"We are not aware of any single-minded bias against Russians," he said, adding that Albanian field commanders have repeatedly promised safe passage to workers with international aid organizations and journalists covering events in Kosovo.

Nesterushkin said journalists heading to Kosovo should consult with staff at the Russian Embassy in Belgrade who are abreast of the situation in the zone of fighting and can help arrange trips with Serbian authorities.

"We recommend journalists stay in groups, even though that doesn't guarantee complete safety. They should also try traveling with [Western] correspondents who typically have armored cars," he said. "But the main thing is common sense."