January 17, 2004

ERP KiM Newsletter 17-01-04

Uneasiness in Velika Hoca - German KFOR removed the checkpoint for the sake of "further normalization of the situation"

Serbs who work in the municipality still travel only with escort and the only two Serb members of KPS are not allowed to wear guns like their Albanian colleagues - Great concern for protection of valuable cultural heritage in Velika Hoca.

When KFOR representatives give briefings on the security situation in the Orahovac municipality they present it as stable and positive, which is used as a main argument for continuation of reduction of troops. But when Serbs, on the basis of this "security improvement" request a step forward in respect of their human rights, freedom of movement and return of refugees and monks to the neighboring village of Zociste, KFOR representatives are quite reserved and cannot give their guarantees. According to their security assessment the local Albanian population is still hostile towards Serbs and they say that they cannot  provide safe return of refugees and monks to Zociste.


Bells ring for alert
Bells on the church of St. Stephen (14th century), one of 11 Orthodox
 churches in  Velika Hoca village



ERP KiM Info-service
Velika Hoca, January 17, 2004


(photo: residential quarters and the wine-house of Visoki Decani Monastery in Velika Hoca village (19 c) Monks have been producing wine here since 14th century)

On January 15, 2004 the German KFOR, as it had been previously announced, removed the fixed checkpoint from the entrance to Serbian village of Velika Hoca in order, as it was officially said,  to proceed with "further normalization of the situation".

Dissatisfied with the KFOR decision and concerned for their security students in Velika Hoca did not attend the classes in the school, situated in the upper, Serbian quarter of Orahovac. Their school friends from the Serbian part of Orahovac demonstrated solidarity with them too.

The school manager with the teachers board had an urgent meeting. A local Serb representative from the Municipal Assembly was attending the meeting and it was requested from him to actively engage in finding the solution so that the work of the school can be resumed as soon as possible.

The Serbs say that the school bus which is bringing students form Velika Hoca is not secure enough after the removal of the checkpoint. Beside students, the bus is used by teachers and other staff and without proper security their going to work in upper part of Orahovac and Velika Hoca is hardly possible.

Since arrival of the KFOR to Kosovo this checkpoint provided security to local Serbs, particularly on their daily movement on the road between Upper Orahovac and Velika Hoca, the only road which connects two remaining enclaves in Orahovac municipality. Local Serbs claim that this road is of vital interest for them and therefore constantly represents a zone of higher security risk. From the checkpoint KFOR soldiers could not only control the road and the traffic but were also controlling the surrounding fields and vineyards and thus provided security for the Serb farmers who could normally cultivate their land.

(The famous Spasic home in Velika Hoca (19th c) The most beautiful examples of the Serb village architecture are preserved in this old Serb village)

When KFOR representatives give briefings on the security situation in the Orahovac municipality they present it as stable and positive, which is used as a main argument for continuation of reduction of troops. But when Serbs, on the basis of this "security improvement" request a step forward in respect of their human rights, freedom of movement and return of refugees and monks to the neighboring village of Zociste, KFOR representatives are quite reserved and cannot give their guarantees. According to their security assessment the local Albanian population is still hostile towards Serbs and they say that they cannot  provide safe return of refugees and monks to Zociste.

Local Serbs claim that the German KFOR negatively reacted to many requests of Serbs from upper Orahovac to be granted security in using their old Orthodox cemetery after 5 years again. The cemetery is located in the lower, ethnic Albanian part of the town and is not accessible for Serbs who are forced to use the narrow area around the Orahovac Orthodox church. Two years ago, during one of the escorted visits to the cemetery the local priest Fr. Srdjan found that the cemetery was desecrated and sprayed with UCK graffiti. Despite constant requests the normal access to the cemetery has not been provided yet.

(Fr. Nektarije in front of the ruins of SS. Cosma and Damian church in Zociste Monastery, near Velika Hoca. KFOR is not ready to provide security for reconstruction of this monastery due to opposition of the local Albanian population which looted and burned the monastery led by the local UCK commanders. The church was destroyed by explosives in summer 1999. On the walls of the burned residential quarters of the monastery are still visible the UCK graffiti. For this crime no one has been brought to justice jet and no investigation has been carried at all.)

The best indicator that the security situation is still unsatisfactory and that the KFOR decision is hasty and contradictory to the reality on the ground is the fact that the only two Serb members of the Kosovo Police Service (KPS) from Orahovac are not suggested to walk by foot to their job in the police station in the Albanian part of the town. They are not allowed to wear their guns on the way because they could "irritate the local Albanians". They are regularly brought to job in police cars driven by their Albanian colleagues from the police station. Also three Serb members from Velika Hoca who are employed in the Municipality building are regularly escorted by KPS, which is an additional proof that the security situation in Orahovac area is far from normal.

At the moment around 800 Serbs live in the Serbian quarter in Orahovac and Velika Hoca village. Due to the unstable security situation in the are the return of Serb refugees to the surrounding villages and farms as well as the reconstruction of the Zociste Monastery is still not possible.

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Diocese of Raska and Prizren concerned
If, God forbid, Serbs are attacked by Albanian extremists after this latest KFOR decision I am afraid, KFOR and UNMIK will bear direct responsibility.

ERP KiM Info-service
Gracanica, 16 January 2003

Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren is also seriously concerned after the latest decision of the German KFOR to remove the checkpoint at the entrance to Velika Hoca village. "For years we have been requesting the return of Serbs to the neighboring villages and the reconstruction of the 14th century Zociste Monastery, but they constantly keep saying that it is still not right time for this", says Bishop Artemije, adding that it is incomprehensible that on one side local Serbs are left virtually unprotected and on the others Kosovo Albanian nationalists are allowed to pursue their policy of discrimination and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Metohija, usually under the cover of so called democratic Kosovo institutions.

"Kosovo Serbs simply do not feel secure because almost not a single one case of post-war murder or kidnapping has been positively resolved, not to mention finding perpetrators for destruction and damaging of more than 100 Orthodox Christian churches in Kosovo and Metohija". According to Bishop Artemije the policy of KFOR troop reduction and so called "unfixing" (removal of fixed checkpoints) is intended to force Serbs to rely more on local Albanian dominated institutions in which many former UCK/KLA members sit and continue with policy of ethnic discrimination. "This is one more pressure on Serbs which opens serious risks for future incidents", Bishop said with concern.

"If, God forbid, Serbs are attacked by Albanian extremists after this latest KFOR decision I am afraid, KFOR and UNMIK will bear direct responsibility. The massacre of Serb children in Gorazdevac and the murder of the Stolic family were largely a consequence of the KFOR reduction for the sake of 'normalization of the situation', said the Bishop in his exclusive statement to the ERP KIM Info-Service.

Today I discussed about these issues with Mr. Holkeri and I hope that our objections will make them revise some of their positions, Bishop said.

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Project of protection, preservation and revitalization of Velika Hoca - NGO Mnemosyne
http://www.mnemosyne.org.yu/projekti/orahovac/velikahoca_e.html


New NATO chief pledges support on Kosovo visit

PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AFP) Jan 16, 2004

Newly-appointed NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer pledged Friday that alliance peacekeepers would remain committed in Kosovo, on his first official visit to the UN-administered Serbian province. "I have come here on one of my first days in office to show the continued commitment of NATO to Kosovo," Scheffer said after meeting the top commander of NATO's Kosovo force, known as KFOR, Lieutenant General Holger Kammerhoff.

"We think (KFOR) has played an important role, and it will still have to play an important role in the run-up to the important events which are going to take place in Kosovo," he said.

During his brief visit, the Atlantic alliance's chief was also to meet with the chief UN diplomat, Harri Holkeri, the province's president, Ibrahim Rugova, and prime minister Bajram Rexhepi.

Close to 20,000 troops serve in Kosovo on NATO's largest mission, and are in charge of peace and security. The number has dropped by more than half from the 50,000 troops initially deployed in 1999.

NATO is expected to further reduce the number of troops serving in Kosovo and neighbouring Bosnia.

Scheffer said however there would not be great reductions in the number of troops on the ground.

"If I speak about continued commitment, you may rest assured that we will not see, let's say, considerable changes in the structure. It might vary, but we will not see considerable changes and not a considerable downsizing," he said.

Scheffer was named head of the alliance at the end of last year and took over the helm of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on January 5.

The new NATO chief, who is Dutch, also visited the town of Obilic, just west of Kosovo's main city Pristina, the site of a brutal murder last year of three elderly Serbs, which was blamed on ethnic Albanians.

More than four years after NATO and the United Nations took over control of the province after a bombing campaign that forced Belgrade to end its anti-Albanian crackdown, ethnic tensions between the majority Albanians and minority Serbs are still high, although the number of serious crimes has dropped.

Scheffer called upon all communities in the province to work together to achieve a string of UN-set benchmarks aimed at improving living conditions. If those benchmarks are met, talks on Kosovo's final status could be organised by the mid-2005.

"The communities and the authorities have to play their role," Scheffer said at a press conference after meeting Holkeri.

"They must condemn violence. There are still too many mindless incidents. They should fight organised crime and they should put in place the conditions for the safe return of refugees and displaced persons.

"Despite the progress which has been made... there's a lot to be wished here still," Scheffer said.


ERP KIM Info-Service is the official Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren and works with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Artemije.
Our Information Service is distributing news on Kosovo related issues. The main focus of the Info-Service is the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian community in the Province of Kosovo and Metohija. ERP KIM Info Service works in cooperation with www.serbian-translation.com as well as the Kosovo Daily News (KDN) News List

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The views expressed by the authors of newspaper articles or other texts which are not official communiqués or news reports by the Diocese are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Serbian Orthodox Church

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