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Swiss-based paper accused of inciting conflict in Macedonia

Charges are to be laid against the Swiss-based newspaper Keystone

A Zurich-based Albanian language newspaper, "Bota Sot", has been accused of inciting hatred and helping to precipitate the ethnic Albanian rebellion in Macedonia. The Swiss police lodged a formal complaint against the paper on Thursday.

A spokesman for the federal police office said charges would be laid under Switzerland’s anti-racism law.

Accusations against the paper have also been made by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Its acting media commissioner in Kosovo, Simon Haselock, said the newspaper used “racist” and “inflammatory” language when referring to the “enemies” of ethnic Albanians – Serbs in Kosovo or Macedonians in Macedonia.

Bota Sot, the largest Albanian language publication available in Kosovo, also stands accused of having tampered with a photograph from Reuters news agency. The picture showed the victims of a shoot-out between alleged ethnic Albanian rebels and security forces at a military checkpoint in Tetovo, Macedonia, last week.

Haselock accused Bota Sot of fomenting the war in Macedonia and of knowingly endangering the lives of innocent civilians.

“In the context of these societies, if you call people ‘traitors’ and ‘collaborators’ as Bota Sot does, it is likely they will be killed,” Haselock told swissinfo.

“We are convinced that [Bota Sot’s] rhetoric has contributed to the support the [ethnic Albanian] rebels in Macedonia received in financial contributions from the [Albanian] Diaspora”, he added.

Bota Sot’s publisher, Xhevdet Mazrekaj, denies the accusations. The weekly, which began publication in Zurich in the early 1990s and was aimed at the Albanian Diaspora in western Europe, has seen its circulation grow to 120,000 and is the largest Albanian language publication available in Kosovo.

A spokesman for the Swiss justice ministry in Bern, Jürg Bühler, said the editorial policy of Bota Sot was “regrettable”.

Switzerland’s anti racism law enables the cantonal authorities to act without a specific charge being laid.

The OSCE, which is engaged in rebuilding Kosovo’s civil structures, is particularly concerned about a picture of a shoot-out in Tetovo which appeared on the front page of last week’s edition.

It shows unarmed ethnic Albanians, who were shot at and wounded by Macedonian security forces. In the original picture, which was taken by Reuters news agency, one of the Albanians can be seen holding a handgrenade.

Reuter’s European picture news editor, David Viggers, confirmed that Bota Sot had manipulated the photograph. “We are convinced beyond a doubt that [Bota Sot] cropped our picture”, he said in an interview with swissinfo from London.

He said the picture had not been electronically manipulated, but that it had been cropped to exclude the handgrenade . He said Reuters was seeking internal legal advice whether the manipulation was an infringement of the standard copyright contract that Reuters offers its customers.

It is not the first time that Bota Sot has come under fire. Last year, the OECD twice fined the publication a total of DM50,000 (SFr39,000) for making unsubstantiated accusations and using inflammatory language.

But the weekly’s founder, publisher and chief editor, Xhevdet Mazrekaj, denies the accusations. His spokesman told swissinfo: “Mr Haselock has come under the influence of left-wing journalists who were engaged in Serb propaganda during [former Serb dictator] Milosevic’s years.”

by Markus Haefliger

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR