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The Information Service of the Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija

Daily press briefing of the Serb National Council of Kosovo and Metohija

Gracanica, September 1, 2000

  • Bishop Artemije and Chris Dell visit Gnjilane region
  • Campaign against violence to begin with prayer
  • BISHOP ARTEMIJE AND CHRIS DELL VISIT GNJILANE REGION

    Today a delegation of the SNC headed by Bishop Artemije, accompanied by Christopher Dell, the director of the U.S. office in Pristina and several representatives of U.S. government organizations, visited the Gnjilane region. The visit took place at the invitation of the U.S. office and U.S. KFOR who wished to familiarize the SNC with some of their projects which are planned or are already being implemented in the Serb enclaves of the Gnjilane region.

    In the U.S. military base Camp Monteith in Gnjilane, a presentation was organized explaining the newest efforts of U.S. KFOR and especially of the U.S. troops holding the area north of Gnjilane and in the vicinity of Novo Brdo. U.S. KFOR is currently especially engaged in three ways: the creation of better security conditions for the Serbs, the creation of employment opportunities and the renewal of business activities, as well as the development of interethnic dialog between the Serbs and the Albanians.

    In order to achieve better security, KFOR is organizing patrols, maintaining fixed control check-points and observation points, organizing medical visits to Serb areas as well as escorts for local buses travelling between Serb villages. Representatives of KFOR informed the SNC delegation that during the last 60 days not a single murder of a Serb occurred in the region of Gnjilane although the situation remains highly complex and the Serbs do not have the opportunity for freedom of movement and safety outside their enclaves.

    The situation remains most serious in Gnjilane itself where there were formerly
    18,000 Serbs while now there are less than a thousand remaining. The Serbs live primarily in the vicinity of the Serbian Orthodox Church which together with its clergy remained the chief sanctuary, spiritual center and gathering place during this entire time. In the church yard an improvised Serb medical clinic has been operating for a year already as the Serbs still do not have access to the city hospital. Prior Kirilo Djurkovic, the president of the Church and People's Assembly of Gnjilane, informed Bishop Artemije of the information which the Assembly has gathered to date:

    The total number of attacks on Serbs in Gnjilane and surroundings from the middle of June of 1999 to September of 2000 is 10,657 various criminal acts. Of those, there were 132 murders, 153 kidnappings, 161 cases of inflicted injury, 75 attacks with hand grenades, 9 rapes, 638 fires set to Serb houses, 1,323 forced entries into houses, 1,306 instances of looting of Serb property, 966 instances of illegal occupancy of houses by Albanians, 885 attacks on the churches, monasteries and other church property in the region. Such disastrous results of the one year mission largely overshadow all efforts made by KFOR to date although Father Kirilo also stated that if KFOR had not offered at least some protection the Serbs from the attacks of Albanian extremists in Gnjilane and surroundings, there would certainly not be a single Serb left there today.

    Currently the security situation in the Gnjilane region is relatively stable except in the city of Gnjilane itself where the attrition of the remaining population continues and there are no prospects for the return of displaced Serbs in the near future. In the Serb villages of the region - Paralovo, Pones, Koretiste, Stanisor, Gornje Kusce, Silovo and others - there are no attacks by Albanians although there is also no opportunity for freedom of movement and work in the fields is taking place exclusively under the protection of KFOR due to the potential danger. Everyone who was previously employed has been left jobless and economic life absolutely does not exist for the Serbs. Almost no contacts exist with the local Albanians. Distrust and fear are very strong and according to the claims of many, the reduced number of incidents is the result not so much of an improvement of the security situation as of the fact that Serbs cannot go anywhere now without a KFOR escort.

    Because of this very reason, U.S. KFOR and the U.S. administration are attempting to invest funds for the revival of economic life and the offering of employing opportunities in order to enable the greatest possible stabilization of the Serb enclaves and the creation of opportunities for economic interdependence and cooperation with the surrounding Albanian communities. Toward that goal the SNC delegation visited several Serb communities where the U.S. administration and KFOR are planning or already implementing certain projects in cooperation with the local population. In the village of Silovo, the delegation visited a school which is now being expanded by construction of additional wings. USAID invested 40,000 in this project. Also planned is financial assistance for local Radio MAX which is the only source of information for this Serb community. The delegation then visited the cold storage plant in Silovo for which U.S. KFOR is currently seeking a donator prepared to invest almost 200,000 dollars to start up production which would enable the employment of 40 Serbs initially and an even greater number later. The intention also exists to employ Albanians there but the local Serbs will accept only the return to work of those Albanians who worked there before as the Serbs are unable to work in all other companies under the control of Albanians. The renovation of the cold storage plant would be significant because both Serb and Albanian producers could bring their meat here for processing which would create conditions for interethnic economic relations.

    In the village of Gornje Kusce the SNC delegation and U.S. representatives visited the local school where a medical clinic has been set up in the basement. Gornje Kusce is a completely Serb village and the need for a medical clinic existed even before the war when the Serbian government began construction of a new medical clinic next to the school. Unfortunately, construction has stopped and now the U.S. government plans to complete this project through its own organizations. In the meanwhile, in addition to the Serbian Ministry of Health which is providing supplies for the facility and paying the physicians, U.S. KFOR is also bringing necessary medication. Bishop Artemije then visited the school where he spoke with the director. Housed in the school, which prior to the war was an elementary school only, there are now additionally two secondary schools here and the total number of students is almost 1,000. The school is in need of necessary instructional materials, equipment and general construction repairs. USAID has provided one school bus for Serb children which transports children from the region to and from school each day.

    After this, the representatives of the SNC and the U.S. office traveled to the village of Pones and visited the small village school which up to June of this year was attended by both Serb and Albanian children. This primarily Serb village also has an Albanian quarter and Albanian children attend school at the same time as Serb children. To date there have been no incidents among the children. Local Albanians insisted on the construction of a new school closer to the villages and the main road which the Serbs were unable to accept for security reasons as they do not feel safe outside of their village. USAID will finance the repair of the building and purchase of necessary instructional materials. Serb children have already started school where as Albanian children, according to members of KFOR, are expected to begin on Monday. The Serbs in this village are currently living peacefully but there is a great deal of fear and tension after several cases of murder and kidnapping in the summer of last year. The dominant mood is that of abandonment and isolation. Any travel and field work is carried out only with a U.S. KFOR escort which is always present in the village.

    The SNC delegation was also informed retarding the work of the Landsdowne group which consists of three Serb and three Albanian representatives from the Gnjilane region. This group is meeting on a weekly basis in Camp Monteith and discussing problems and ways of surmounting existing difficulties. In a situation where there is almost no communication between the communities, the work of this group and the dialog it has established gives hope that it will be possible to establish more sincere relations between the communities.

    This visit to the Gnjilane region is the first in a series of several planned visits to Serb locations in Sector East. During these visits the intent exists to better identify the problems of the Serb community and to find solutions on the spot which might contribute to a better life. The final conclusion following this visit to Serb communities in the Gnjilane region is that the situation has not improved nor has it grown worse. Steps are being taken with the goal of improving the life of Serbs but the general state of security and human rights still remains at an extremely low level.

    CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE TO BEGIN WITH PRAYER

    With the goal of implementing the decision from Airlie House regarding the start of the campaign against violence, the SNC has decided to mark the beginning of the campaign on September 9 with a PRAYER FOR PEACE which will be held in all Orthodox churches of the Diocese and Raska and Prizren. At these prayer sessions, the people will pray to God for the peace of those souls who perished as victims of violence and for an end to terror and hate.

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