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Serb Govt. Expels Foreign Reporters

March 25, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The Serbian government today ordered the expulsion of all foreign journalists from countries involved in the NATO airstrikes. Many foreign reporters began heading out of the country.

A statement faxed to The Associated Press by the Serb government today said: ``Journalists of foreign public media from the countries that took part or allowed their territories to be used in NATO aggression on our country will be expelled.″

The order was issued ``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 statement.

``This order is effective immediately,″ said the statement, which accused the foreign media of disinformation. It was signed by Information Minister Alexander Vucic.

The federal government of Yugoslavia _ made up of dominant Serbia and smaller Montenegro _ said journalists were welcome to stay, as long as they are objective. However, journalists were leaving in response to the statement by Serb authorities. The federal capital, Belgrade, and Kosovo are both in Serbia.

The contradicting messages appeared to reflect the power struggle among relative moderates and radicals in top government ranks.

In Washington, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the harassment of journalists ``says an awful lot about President Milosevic and his authoritarian regime.″

``We take any action or threats against Americans seriously,″ said Lockhart.

In a related development today, authorities released all two dozen foreign journalists detained by police late Wednesday and early today while watching NATO airstrikes from a Belgrade hotel roof.

Belgian journalist Phillippe Deprez, who works for RTBF Radio, was the last one released after hours of detention and headed out the country today.

Serb police took away Washington Post correspondent Peter Finn from his hotel room before dawn, telling a clerk he would be expelled from Yugoslavia, the newspaper’s assistant managing editor Philip Bennett said.

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