Serb bishop accuses Kosovo Albanians of vandalizing church

Published on June 19, 2006, Associated Press

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

A Serbian Orthodox Church bishop on Monday blamed ethnic Albanian extremists in Kosovo for recent vandalism at a church, saying their aim was to erase Serbian culture from the disputed province.

Bishop Artemije spoke in the Kosovo town of Obilic, where thieves last week made off with four golden crosses from atop domes, as well as parts of the roof, and ornate windows and doors from the Presveta Bogorodica (Holy Virgin) temple.

"The latest act of vandalism by (ethnic) Albanians shows that the extremists ... are resolved to completely wipe out everything Serbian in Kosovo," Artemije said, according to the Beta news agency.

Kosovo police said they were investigating the Obilic incident but had found no suspects.

The province has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when NATO bombing forced Serbia to halt its crackdown on the ethnic Albanian separatists and relinquish control over the territory.

"Since KFOR troops (NATO-led peacekeepers) arrived in Kosovo in 1999, 150 Orthodox temples have been vandalized or demolished by Kosovo Albanians. The fate of Serbian heritage in Kosovo is very much under threat," Bishop Artemije was quoted as saying.

A permanent solution for Kosovo is being negotiated in U.N.-sponsored talks, with Serbs pledging not to give up their historic heartland and the province's ethnic Albanian majority demanding independence.

Protection of the mostly medieval Serb churches and monasteries is a key issue at the negotiations, overseen by the six-nation Contact Group _ the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia, France and Italy.

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