A senior NATO commander said today that Kosovo Albanian attacks on Serb villages this week were not far from turning into "ethnic cleansing".
Almost a thousand Serbs living in isolated villages among the majority Albanian communities in Kosovo have fled in the last three days as houses and churches were torched by Albanians despite a heavy presence of international peacekeepers.
The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, from their extraordinary session, which met in expanded convocation, summoned by His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle, on the occasion of the latest tragic events in Kosovo and Metohija, issued the following Statement and Appeal:
According to most recent reports, the seat of the Diocese in Prizren and the 19th century Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Great Martyr George have been set on fire, confirmed the monks of Holy Archangels Monastery. The fate of priest-monk Miron Kosac, who was in the Bishop's residence with German soldiers remains unknown. It is assumed he may have been evacuated to a German military base. Also in flames in the 14th century Church of Christ the Savior located on the hill above the old part of the city.
The Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija calls on the Serb population to exercise self-restraint and behave in conscientious manner. Today's uncontrolled behavior on the part of Albanian extremist groups is the best indicator of what the Church and Serb leaders have been saying for years, which is that in Kosovo and Metohija in the presence of international forces a monoethnic and fascist society is being built whose purpose is the complete expulsion and extermination of the unprotected Serb population. By their actions of today, Albanian extremists and their leaders have shown their true colors and the kind of Kosovo that they want to build. The story of the Albanian leaders about so-called multiethnicity and democracy has been and remains pure deception of the international community in order to gain time and complete the process of complete rearmament and creation of paramilitary forces.
The Diocese appeals to the authorities in Belgrade to undertake all measures to protect the Serbs and other endangered population from armed Albanians in the event of further escalation of violence.
The Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija wishes to inform the public that there is a general campaign by Kosovo Albanians organized by extremist groups in progress whose purpose is to destabilize the Province and expel the remaining Serbian population. Presently unprotected Serbs in the enclaves are being guarded by strong forces of international police and KFOR and there is a danger that the riots will spread to all parts of Kosovo and Metohija unless KFOR launches a decisive military campaign to occupy key territories and routes. According to multiple sources both the Albanians and international forces are using firearms in self-defense.
According to reports from KIM Radio in Caglavica several thousand Albanians are presently trying to break through to the Serb villages of Caglavica and Gracanica, where the unprotected Serb population is being guarded by cordons of UNMIK police and KFOR. The first blockade on Mt. Veternik was broken through some 40 minutes ago and the Albanians arrived within some 100 meters from the village itself where hand grenades have been thrown at two Serb houses. According to local sources many Serbs have been injured by rocks. Radio KIM from Caglavica reports that there is smoke rising from some Serb houses on the outskirts of the village but it is difficult to verify the concrete situation on the ground. Gunshots can also be heard although it is not clear whether rubber bullets or real ammunition is being fired.
The first cordon of international forces consists of Indian riot police; behind them are strong KFOR forces from the Scandinavian countries. In Caglavica and Gracanica themselves the situation is presently calm and both Church and political leaders are urging the Serbs to behave conscientiously and with restraint in order to prevent the further uncontrolled spread of violence.
The situation is also critical in Kosovska Mitrovica where demonstrations and riots started this morning as a result of the broadcasting of unconfirmed reports regarding the drowning of three Albanian children in the Ibar River. During the night general preparations for today's disturbances were laid with the purpose of provoking the Serbs from the northern part of Mitrovica and causing a general armed conflict. According to a statement by Marko Jaksic of the Serbian National Council of Northern Kosovo, at least two Serbs have been killed and several have been seriously wounded and transferred for treatment to Mitrovica Hospital. SNC of Northern Kosovo representatives claim that this is a pre-planned and well-organized campaign whose purpose is to rise up the entire Albanian population of the province. The situation in smaller Serb villages and settlements bordering on larger Albanian settlements and territories remains completely unclear.
Appeal of Bishop Artemije:
Bishop Artemije has appealed to the Serbian population through the ERP KIM Info Service to show restraint and act in a conscientious and dignified manner. Today's uncontrolled behavior on the part of Albanian extremist groups is the best indicator of what the Church and Serb leaders have been saying for years, which is that in Kosovo and Metohija in the presence of international forces a monoethnic and fascist society is being built whose purpose is the complete expulsion and extermination of the unprotected Serb population. By their actions of today, Albanian extremists and their leaders have shown their true colors and the kind of Kosovo that they want to build. The story of the Albanian leaders about so-called multiethnicity and democracy has been and remains pure deception of the international community. The Serb people and its representatives unanimously ask for urgent protection and reinforcement of KFOR and UNMIK forces along with the proclamation of a state of emergency and a curfew.
Patriarch Pavle And Crown Prince Alexander Extend An Invitation For Assistance To Chilandar Monastery: The Renewal Of Chilandar Monastery The Is Common Concern Of The Church, Crown And People8. March 2004 - 22:37
His Holiness Serbian Patriarch Pavle, together with his closest co-workers, received today at the Patriarchal Residence in Belgrade, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Alexander Karageorgevich, among whose entourage, were Captain Panagiotis Tsakos and Mr. Thomas Zephyres, from Greece, great friends of the Serbian people and their Church, as well as Mr. Dragan Acovich, a member of the Crown Counsel.
Last night after midnight Chilandar Monastery on Mount Athos was caught by catastrophic fire, which is still not completely extinguished. There are no casualties, and the firefighters, monks and workers in the monastery are keeping the fire under control. The fire, which spread by rooftop, completely destroyed a part of the monastery complex from the abbot's cell, through the hospitality rooms all the way to the Tower of Saint Sava. The Church of King Milutin, the treasury, archives and monastery library remain out of the fire's range. Five fire engines from Kareia, the administrative center of Mount Athos and the Chalkidiki Peninsula, joined in extinguishing and containing the fire.