By Nathan Burchfiel
A prominent Serbian Orthodox bishop Thursday said the U.S. was allowing Islamic extremists to wage war on Christians in Kosovo by deciding not to oppose Kosovo's independence.
Kosovo is an autonomous province in Serbia with a population of about 2 million, most who are ethnic Albanian and Muslim. It is currently administered by the United Nations Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), but negotiations which began this year are expected to eventually result in independence for the province.
However, Dr. Artemije Radosavljevic on Thursday issued a warning about the prospect of and independent Kosovo.
"At a time when America is leading the free world in a global struggle against jihad terror, Kosovo-Metohija must not continue to be an exception, where for reasons we do not understand, American officials have taken the side of the criminals and jihadists," Artemije said during a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Artemije, the bishop of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija, has traveled to the United States on several occasions to meet with government officials and urge them to oppose independence for Kosovo.
He told reporters that the region has become a "black hole of corruption and crime" since it became a protectorate of the United Nations in 1999, following NATO bombings that were intended to encourage then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo.
Since 1999, the Kosovar Albanians have targeted Serbian Orthodox Christians, according to Artemije, allegedly burning down more than 150 churches, driving more than 220,000 Christians from the region and killing thousands more.
Granting Kosovo independence from Serbia would make Serbian Christians more vulnerable to violence from the region's Muslim majority.
"Detaching Kosovo from democratic Serbia," Artemije said, "would mean a virtual sentence of extinction for my people in the province and create a rogue state in which the terrorists are the government."
He added that there have been thousands of Christians captured and killed by Muslim extremists, including numerous videotaped beheadings. "Why are jihad beheadings an outrage in the rest of the world, but not when they're happening in Kosovo to Christian Serbs?" Artemije asked.
Artemije said he has had several meetings with Bush administration officials and members of Congress during his current visit, but a spokesman declined to name the individuals with whom the bishop met. Artemije told reporters that his current trip to the U.S. has been more successful than the one he took in February of this year.
"There certainly has been movement forward judging by the number of meetings, the quality of meetings, the atmosphere in which the talks where held and the obvious presence of a desire to help," he said.
In an October 2005 report titled: "Why Independence for Kosovo?" prepared by Muhamedin Kullashi and Besnik Pula - intellectuals from the city of Prishtina -- they argued that independence is the "only historically justified and politically viable solution that will guarantee peace, stability and development in the Balkans."
"Placing sovereignty in Prishtina's hands will finally enable Kosovo's integration into regional, European and global institutions, and allow its emergence from the institutional, political and diplomatic isolation imposed by the international administration of UNMIK, as a result of the unresolved status," they wrote.
Muhamedin and Besnik also claimed that "the key generator of conflict in Kosovo was Serbia's aggressive and repressive policy against the local Albanian population, and not any hatred or lack of trust between ethnic communities."
"With its aggression and campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1999, Serbia lost any legitimacy to rule over Kosovo in any shape or form," they wrote.
U.S. State Department spokesman Terry Davidson told Cybercast News Service that the United States has "not said explicitly that we're for independence or against independence. It just has to be something that takes the various interests into account and protects the minority populations as well."
He said further information could be found in the remarks that Ambassador Frank Wisner, the U.S. representative to the Kosovo Status Talks, made during interviews with Voice of America radio on June 23.
"The issue today is to put in place the structure of a Kosovo that will be stable," Wisner said last month, one that "will provide the basis of a functioning society that can evolve into a full partner in a greater European and Western community."
Wisner told Voice of America that, "Whatever the future will be in terms of final status -- whether Kosovo will be independent or something else -- Kosovo Serbs are going to need protections that will guarantee them their full rights."
He also declined to offer an opinion on whether Kosovo should be granted independence from Serbia, but said the region's final status would be addressed "during 2006."