Serbeze HAXHIAJ  |  BIRN, Pristina

Two bullets were fired at Enver Maloku’s apartment in Pristina on July 18, 1998. One hit the railings of the balcony; the other hasn’t been found. The assassination attempt failed.

When or not it was the same shooter who opened fire on the afternoon of January 11, 1999, this time the attempt succeeded.

Maloku, a journalist, writer and head of the Kosovo Information Centre, was hit by a bullet a few metres from the apartment on the ground floor of a building in the Sunny Hill neighbourhood where he lived. He died shortly afterwards at a hospital in Pristina.

A Serbian police report said at the time that Maloku was killed by a semi-automatic weapon and that there were three suspects at the crime scene.

But more than two decades later, it’s still not known who was responsible, and Maloku is among the few Kosovo Albanian journalists killed during the war whose murder continues to be a mystery.

After the state broadcaster Radio Television of Pristina was closed to ethnic Albanian workers by the Belgrade authorities, Maloku started to work at the Kosovo Information Centre, an internet-based media outlet established in 1989 and affiliated with the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK party, which was founded by Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo’s first president. Maloku was also editor of the Informatori newspaper.

Bajram Mjeku’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled how he had to write the news report about the murder of Maloku, who was one of his colleagues at the Kosovo Information Centre.

“We were numb at first, then cold, then came the shock. I still feel the moment when I sat down to write the news. Our colleague Xhemail Mustafa started to help by dictating it while I was writing,” said Mjeku.

Almost two years later, in November 2000, Xhemail Mustafa would also be killed in the same way, while entering the building in which he lived in the centre of Pristina. His murder is also unsolved.

Maloku’s death came against the backdrop of internecine political violence in Kosovo which developed at the same time as the growing resistance to Slobodan Milosevic’s repressive regime. Questions remain as to whether his shooting was connected to the political in-fighting among Kosovo Albanian factions.

At the time, there was serious rivalry between Rugova’s LDK party and the Kosovo Liberation Army, as well as with the party from which came most of the KLA’s core members, the Kosovo People’s Movement. The situation deteriorated during wartime because the KLA opposed Rugova’s pacifist ideology and the LDK’s military wing, the Kosovo Armed Forces, FARK, which fought separately against Belgrade’s rule.

During that time, some people close to Rugova were killed, like Maloku and Ahmet Krasniqi, Kosovo’s minister of defence in exile.

Political tensions continued after the war when some LDK members were assassinated in a similar way, at the entrances to buildings in which they lived. The murders went unsolved and mutual accusations between the LDK and the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK – the party that succeeded the Kosovo People’s Movement and the KLA – have continued for years.

Meanwhile Maloku’s murder remains an active case in the Kosovo Special Prosecution Office’s files. His former colleagues believe however that it could have been predicted.

“The life of Enver Maloku from July 1998 to January 1999 was a chronicle of a death foretold. It was something for which we were prepared,” one ex-colleague, Muhamet Hamiti, told BIRN in his office at the Faculty of Philology in Pristina, where he now works.

“At that time, the Information Centre was the most credible media outlet and the main reference point when it came to developments in Kosovo,” Hamiti explained.

He also said that they had been informed that Maloku was on a list of the political and public figures who were condemned to death – a list that was apparently signed by the Kosovo Liberation Army or someone on behalf of the KLA’s headquarters.

“Even after the murder of Maloku, we received warnings saying that ‘you autonomists will have the same fate’,” Hamiti claimed. The KLA accused LDK members of not wanting independence but autonomy for Kosovo under Serbian rule.

But the murder of the journalist, who was a close associate of Rugova, happened at a point when Rugova did not have hostile relations with members of the KLA, raising question marks over claims that KLA fighters could have killed Maloku.

While some of his colleagues believe KLA members could have been responsible amid the tensions between Rugova’s LDK and the guerrilla force, some KLA fighters were among the mourners who attended Maloku’s funeral.

In a speech in parliament in 2015, his daughter Doruntina Maloku, who is now a Kosovo MP, accused parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli, as the former head of the now-disbanded Kosovo Intelligence Service, SHIK, of bearing responsibility for the murder of her father and other LDK members.

In response, Veseli urged her to file any evidence she had to the prosecutor’s office. “Also, to be clear, at the time when your father was killed, SHIK didn’t exist. It was wartime and there were still Serb forces in Kosovo and the Kosovo Information Service wasn’t established yet,” added Veseli, who was also a co-founder of the KLA.

Maloku’s family declined to talk to BIRN for this article.

Ibrahim Berisha, a former editor-in-chief of the Kosovo Information Centre, told BIRN that he believes that Maloku was killed because of his journalistic work.

“And also I believe he was not killed by Serbs. This murder was a kind of message to others who [might have] wanted to oppose them,” Berisha said.

He recalled how these were difficult times for journalists in Pristina – a chaotic environment that made the case even harder to unravel.

“The war was intensifying and it was hard to wake up and not think if you would be around for the whole day. It was a perfect time to cover u the traces [of the crime],” he said.

In 2015, Albania’s then president, Bujar Nishani, posthumously awarded Maloku the prestigious Golden Medal of the Eagle. The year afterwards, Kosovo’s then President, Atifete Jahjaga, decorated the journalist with the Hero of Kosovo award.

In 2017, the European Federation of Journalists adopted a resolution submitted by media associations from Belgrade and Pristina calling for the establishment of a commission to investigate murders of journalists and media workers in Kosovo between 1998 and 2005.

Many of Maloku’s colleagues still feel that there was a political motivation behind the murder.

Halil Matoshi, a former journalist who now works as media adviser to Prime Minster Ramush Haradinaj, remembers Maloku as a good guitarist and a rock singer. He also believes that as a journalist, Maloku became the victim of political disputes.

“Gangs who were battling to ruin Ibrahim Rugova and pave the way for their political power could not forgive Enver Maloku’s direct approach,” Matoshi told BIRN.

“Maloku was persistent in defending the legitimacy of popular resistance against Serbia’s repression, and at the same time he defended Ibrahim Rugova and the LDK’s legitimacy against the left-wing forces of the so-called Kosovo People’s Movement,” he added.

Meanwhile, Maloku’s case file remains open at the prosecutor’s office. Kosovo’s Special Prosecution, which has since inherited all Kosovo’s unsolved murder files from the EU rule-of-law mission, EULEX, could not offer any further details about it.

Special prosecutor Besim Kelmendi, the state prosecution’s coordinator for cases related to killings of and threats against journalists, told BIRN that “investigations have been launched into several cases including Enver Maloku”.