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KOSOVO & SERBIA: Destruction worse than initially believed, and violence sparks incidents in Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia

At least 28 people were killed, about 1,000 injured and 30 Orthodox churches and monasteries in Kosovo were destroyed during the recent violence by Albanian mobs against the minority Serbian population, KFOR and UNMIK units. Numbers are not yet final. The Serbian Orthodox Church is today demanding that German KFOR troops be withdrawn from duty in for "incompetence" during the violence, as they failed to save from destruction ten historic churches and other Orthodox property. Witnesses stated that the German KFOR troops did nothing to protect any of the sites. Also, the diocese blames UNMIK for failing to protect its sites in the period from 1999 to before the present violence, during which 112 Orthodox churches were destroyed without any attackers being arrested. In Serbia, the authorities have arrested 120 people for attacks against mosques in Belgrade and Nis, and religious leaders, political parties and the government have joined in condemned the burning of the two mosques. City officials have promised to refurbish the Belgrade mosque, and the police chief and his deputy have been fired. However, the Kosovo violence also probably sparked incidents elsewhere in Serbia, and in neighbouring Montenegro, Bosnia and Macedonia.

KOSOVO & SERBIA: "Do not abandon convent to destruction", bishop pleads

Kosovo's Orthodox bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) has today (19 March) gained a commitment from the KFOR peacekeeping force to defend the Sokolica convent which has been threatened with destruction by Albanian mobs amid the continuing anti-Serb violence, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. He had earlier complained that the Albanian mob first attacks, then waits for KFOR and UNMIK to evacuate the Serbian population or clergy before stepping in to burn and destroy. In devastating criticism of the local political leaders, Council of Europe parliamentary assembly leader Peter Schieder wrote to Kosovo's prime minister Bajram Rexhepi to condemn the violence and "the disgraceful  absence of clear and unequivocal condemnation of the anti-Serb violence by the Kosovo Albanian leadership". And he warned: "Kosovo cannot build its future on the blood of innocent people and the ashes of their burned homes and churches."

KOSOVO & SERBIA: Pristina Orthodox priest "lucky" to be alive

The parish priest of the St Nicholas' Church in Kosovo's capital Pristina has told Forum 18 News Service that he is lucky to be alive after an Albanian mob burnt his church down yesterday evening, and set his parish house on fire just before dawn this morning. "I was lucky they did not look in the cellar otherwise God knows if this morning I would still be alive," he told Forum 18. St Nicholas' church, has long been under threat, especially since KFOR's guard force was removed last May. Since 1999, no attackers on this or any other Orthodox Church have been arrested by UNMIK, KFOR, or the mainly ethnically Albanian Kosovo Protection Service. At least 31 people have been killed so far, and about 17 churches and other Serbian Orthodox sites destroyed in the anti-Serb violence that began on 17 March and is still continuing (see F18News 18 March 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=280). Some Albanian politicians have, along with the Visoki Decani Orthodox Monastery, tried to stop the violence, which the international ombudsperson, Marek Antoni Nowicki described as "the intent to cleanse this land from the presence of all Serbs, in total rejection of the idea of a multi-ethnic cohabitation in Kosovo". An Orthodox Church in neighbouring Bosnia was also set on fire late yesterday (18 March).

KOSOVO & SERBIA: Churches & mosques destroyed amid inter-ethnic violence

Large scale violence in Kosovo and Serbia before the 5th anniversary of Nato's bombing raids has seen many Serbian Orthodox churches and mosques attacked, amid disputed suggestions, including by an un-named UNMIK official, that the violence in Kosovo was planned as a "pogrom against Serbs: churches are on fire and people are being attacked for no other reason than their ethnic background", Forum 18 News Service has learnt. In the Serbian capital Belgrade and in the southern city of Nis, mobs set two mosques on fire despite the pleas of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In Belgrade, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral personally pleaded with the mob and urged police and firefighters to react and preserve "what could be preserved". After initial hesitation for fear of the mob, firefighters and police did intervene, so the Belgrade mosque, which is "under state protection", was saved from complete destruction. In Kosovo since 1999, many attacks have been made on Orthodox shrines, without UNMIK, KFOR, or the mainly ethnically Albanian Kosovo Protection Service making any arrests of attackers.

MACEDONIA: Who attacked, armed with machine guns, an Orthodox monastery?

Metropolitan Jovan (Vranisskovski) of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, has accused Macedonian state officials of attacking a monastery loyal to his archdiocese. The "infamous Lions, a paramilitary state security unit, which was established in FYR Macedonia under supervision of former Milosevic paramilitary instructors", has been accused of responsibility by the Kosovo diocese. During the attack, five masked men armed with machine guns men broke in, smashed most of the religious items, stole a dozen icons, poured petrol on the furniture and set it alight. They also attacked two nuns, Renata Mizhimakovska and Dana Stojanovska, cutting their hair. The perpetrators escaped into the dark. The attack follows numerous legal cases brought by the Macedonian authorities in recent months against clergy and nuns of the church, including an accusation that Metropolitan Jovan is a spy of a foreign state. Metropolitan Jovan denies all the accusations.

MACEDONIA: Orthodox Monk and Bishop fined, and another Bishop still jailed

A Serbian Orthodox Bishop, Marko (Kimev), and a monk, Sasko Velkov, have been fined yesterday (27 January) for taking part in a baptism last July, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Another Bishop, Jovan (Vranisskovski), who conducted the baptism, is still in jail for his participation in a church service on 11 January at which Bishop Marko and other monks and nuns were also arrested by Macedonian police. Bishop Marko told Forum 18 that the arrest and sentencing of monks and nuns is "an obvious attempt to scare Macedonian Orthodox Church monks who desired to join the Serbian Orthodox Church". Both the Serbian and Greek Orthodox churches have asked the Macedonian government to release Bishop Jovan, who Amnesty International has described as being in jail for his "non-violent religious convictions". Macedonian officials have rejected these appeals.

MACEDONIA: Serbian Orthodox Archbishop arrested again

Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Jovan has again been arrested by Macdonian police, along with four monks, seven nuns, and a theology student from Bulgaria currently studying in Greece, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The Archbishop and the monks and nuns have been held in jail, and the theology student has been deported and banned for two years from entering Macedonia. The latest arrests took place when police interrupted a church service, and appears to be linked to moves by some within the Macedonian Orthodox Church, including some monasteries, to be reconciled with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Macedonian government has told Forum 18 that "entering spiritual and canonical unity with the Archbishopric of Ohrid", which the government claims is "non-existent in Macedonia", constitutes "the dissemination of religious hatred."

KOSOVO: No peace for Orthodox Christmas

The Orthodox Christmas season this month has been marred in Kosovo by a series of violent incidents, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. A church was broken into and several items and some money were stolen, and a bus was attacked by local Albanians at the Decani monastery after the Christmas service. The attack on the church follows an earlier attack in November 2003. Officials of the United Nations administration (UNMIK) have condemned the attacks, the latest in a series since 1999 for which no arrests have ever been made. Speaking to Forum 18 about the attack on the bus, Fr Sava Janjic of the Decani monastery described it as a "demonstration of utmost religious intolerance" on Christmas "a holiday of peace and forgiveness". "What a paradox, that the attack was made at a moment when the head of UNMIK, only a hundred metres away, was speaking with the local Decani assembly president and appealed to him to show tolerance and understanding towards Decani monastery."

KOSOVO: Renewed attacks on Serbian Orthodox

In the first such incidents since August, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that two Serbian Orthodox churches have been vandalised. As with all such attacks since 1999, when the UN took over administration of the province, no perpetrators have been identified or charged. The NATO-led KFOR, which has overall control of security, claimed to Forum 18 that it had "no knowledge of the alleged events". Despite this, Fr Sava (Janjic), of Decani Monastery, told Forum 18 that the Orthodox Church remains grateful to KFOR troops for their concern and protection, "We do not know what would happen to us without them," but also commented on continuing problems, such as the 10 hours it took to assemble a military escort for priests to travel 15 kilometres to a village to comfort families whose children had been shot, killing and wounding several. Forum 18 has also learnt of numerous Orthodox graveyards being completely destroyed, including in one instance a French military cemetery from the First World War. This war cemetery is now used as a city rubbish dump.

KOSOVO: Religious freedom survey, September 2003

In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in ethnically-divided Kosovo (Kosova in Albanian), Forum 18 News Service reports on the continuing systematic attacks in Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and graveyards. Although more than 100 have been damaged or destroyed since the international community took control in 1999, Forum 18 has found no evidence that anyone has been prosecuted for these attacks (just as no-one is known to have been prosecuted for Serbian paramilitary and army attacks on 215 mosques during the 1999 war). Protestant leaders have complained that ethnic Albanian church members from Muslim backgrounds at times suffer "persecution", often from family members. The international bodies ruling Kosovo have done little to promote religious freedom.

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO: Attacks on religious minorities in 2002

Following the attack on an open-air Christian music concert last Friday (See F18News 11 August 2003), Forum 18 News Service presents this chronological list of attacks on religious minorities that took place in Serbia/Montenegro during the year 2002. The attackers had a variety of motives, from religious intolerance to the hope of criminal gains. Adventists, Jews, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, Nazarenes, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Reformed, Campus Crusade for Christ, Evangelicals, and Anglicans were all victims of different types of attack in 2002, ranging from hate speech and graffiti to physical assaults. Forum 18 continues to monitor the situation.

SERBIA: Attack on Christian music concert

On the evening of 8 August 2003, during a music concert organised at Vrdnik (90 kilometres or 60 miles north-west of Belgrade) by the local Church of God Pentecostal church and led by a German Pentecostal band from Heidelberg, Forum 18 News Service has learned that the power line was cut by an axe, someone threw a hand grenade near the stage, and after the concert ended one person drove his car in the park where spectators were, threatening organisers that he was armed. No injuries were reported. The police are investigating the incidents, and a Vrdnik city councillor expressed his regrets at these events. "When society does not react at hate speech in the media, and graffiti on church walls, the next things are events like these, which we condemn and ask the state to take measures against the perpetrators", the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia told Forum 18.