'Yugoslavia not safe for me,' says journalist who testified

Rowland: staying away from Yugoslavia

BBC correspondent Jacky Rowland has said she will not return to Yugoslavia following her decision to give evidence in the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

Rowland, who agreed to give evidence about events in Kosovo during Nato air strikes in 1999, said at the News World conference that after testifying this summer she would not return to Yugoslavia "for a few years".

"I don’t think it’s safe for me to go there in the immediate future," she explained.

The former Belgrade correspondent and her bosses at the BBC have been criticised following her decision to give evidence about two visits she made to Dubrava prison at Istok in Kosovo. She testified at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague in August.

In a letter to The Times former BBC employees, including one time World Service editor Peter Shaw, accused the corporation of allowing its reporters to become "informants". The decision to allow journalists to take the witness stand could jeopardise the BBC’s independence and could potentially put lives at risk, they warned.

But Rowland said her decision to give evidence rested on the fact that by doing so she would not compromise her sources or endanger those who had worked with her.

"It’s not an easy decision and if I felt that it would have endangered the fixers who I had worked with then they would have had to subpoena me," said Rowland.

She added that the plight of a woman whose family of eight had been killed in front of her during the ethnic cleansing had strengthened her resolve to testify. "I had already decided I would go ahead, but it brought a bit of real speak to the situation," said Rowland. "We, as journalists, can have philosophical, ethical and rather rarefied discussions, but let’s not forget the reality of what went on out there."

Her boss, the head of BBC newsgathering, Adrian Van Klaveren, defended the corporation’s decision to back Rowland, but argued that decisions about giving evidence should be made on a case-by-case basis.

"It’s the role of managers to ask questions and help a journalist reach a decision," he said.

Rowland, who in recent months has refused to speak publicly about her decision to give evidence, said hers had been "a test case".

"I think journalists in the future will face tougher decisions than I did and I hope that there will be more information available," she said.

"They should be aware of the safety issues and also that they will be hounded by certain sections of the media."

In a show of hands, the majority of delegates at the conference said they supported Rowland’s decision to give evidence.

By Julie Tomlin in Dublin

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