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LATEST NEWS, July 21, 2002

BISHOP ARTEMIJE REQUESTS FROM UNMIK CHIEF
ASSISTANCE IN RECONSTRUCTION OF DESTROYED HOLY SITES

Church will strongly insist on reconstruction of Zociste Monastery

Bishop Artemije, the spiritual leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija has written a letter to SRSG Mr. Michael Steiner requesting his support for reconstruction of the Serb Orthodox holy sites destroyed or damaged after the war in 1999. FULL TEXT

"We strongly believe that this is our undeniable right which is granted by all international human rights charters and the UNSCR 1244", Bishop said in his letter to the chief of UNMIK Mr. Steiner


Bishop Artemije and his priestmonks at Zociste monastery

A PRAYER IN THE RUINED MONASTERY

Gracanica, July 14, 2002

Bishop of Kosovo and Metohija, Artemije (Radosavljevic) served with his clergy a first post-war holy Liturgy (mass) in the ruined monastery of SS Cosma and Damian in Zociste, 5 km. south from Orahovac. The Monastery of Zociste was founded in the 14th century and was first mentioned in the charter of St. King Stefan of Decani in 1327. Throughout the Ottoman occupation the monastery was a spiritual and educational center for the local Orthodox Serb population. In the period before the Kosovo war in 1999 a brotherhood of 7 monks lived in the monastery. After the war and the deployment of KFOR the Kosovo Albanian militants looted and torched the monastery leaving the old church levelled to the ground. All Serb population from this area fled in front of KLA crimes which continued despite of massive KFOR presence. More than 200 local Serbs from this area were abducted or killed by the KLA exremists. Not a single post war crime has been fully investigated by the UN administration.


Holy Service amidst the ruins of a desecrated monastery


Exactly three years after these tragic events the KFOR authorities agreed to provide security for the first holy liturgy in this desecrated shrine. The congregation was brought under KFOR escort from Mitrovica, Prizren, Gracanica, Orahovac and Velika Hoca, altogether 200 people. While the local German troops provided security local Albanian villagers gathered near the monastery and shouted, cursed and whistled all the time during the holy service. KFOR soldiers prevented Albanians to come closer because there was a danger that the congregation might be stoned by the crowd. This has once again demonstrated the animosity and hatred of the local Albanian population which fails to show basic lack of culture and civilization even in front of a religious service.

Speaking amidst the rain of curses and shouting by local Albanians Bishop Artemije addressed the gathered Orthodox Serbs in his sermon:

"Today, brothers and sisters, we celebrate again the resurrection of Lazarus. The Christ's friend Lazarus died and remained in a tomb four days when the Lord came and made him alive. We are today at the tomb of our monastery of SS. Cosma and Damian which lies in ruins for three years. But today is the day of its spiritual rebirth and resurrection. We have gathered to heal with our prayers the wounds of this shrine like the holy medics Cosma and Damian used to heal those who would ask their help. There are many wounds on the body of our people and our Church here in Kosovo and Metohija, where more than 110 churches have been destroyed after the war."


Fr. Nektarije in front of Zociste Monastery ruins


In the continuation of his sermon Bishop Artemije pointed out that the rebuilding of our destroyed shrines begins with the monastery of Zociste in which many people of different ethnicities and religions found God's mercy and healing before the war.

Interrupted by vulgar abuses and whistles of the Albanians, Bishop Artemije offered a prayer to SS Cosma and Damian asking them to heal these deceived people with their prayers and bring them to the spirit of love and forgiveness. "The Christian religion is the religion of love and forgiveness, the religion which preaches peace and we are here exactly to give our peace to all the people"

After the holy Liturgy and the cutting of the "Slava cake" a memorial service was served over the desecrated tombs of Abbot Damian and monk Moses. Albanian extremists desecrated these two tombs and broke into peaces thier crosses and marble tombstones.

With this spiritual celebration in Zociste Bishop Artemije inaugurated the reconstructon of the destroyed Serbian Orthodox holy sites in Kosovo and Metohija. The program of this action - LET US RENEW OUR HOLY SITES WITH PRAYER - a series of religious services will be celebrated on the locations of destroyed churches and monasteries all over the Province. The goal of this action is to demonstrate that Orthodox Serbs do not renounce their holy sites which are even more sacred to them with the wounds inflicted by the Albanian exremists.


Bishop Artemije served a memorial service at the desecrated cemeterty


"Those who destroyed these shrines they devastated and desecrated their own souls and brought great shame upon their poeple. Extremists can still demolish as many churches and tombs they want, but by doing so they would only strengthen the faith of Orthodox Christians which strongly believe that after the Crucifiction comes Resurrection, " said Bishop Artemije to the Info Service ERP KIM.

This event in Zociste has also demonstrated the level of freedom of religion and human rights in Kosovo and Metohija three years after the war. While at the same time dozens of new mosques were constructed by the Saudi Arabian and other Muslim charity organization destroyed Orthodox church still remain in ruins. At the same time the local Albanian population and their leadership use every opportunity to make very clear that Serbs are not wanted back in Kosovo and Metohija.

Recent attempts of some international representatives and Albanian political leaders to show that the situation in the Province has improved look more like theatre plays in which a lie is presented as truth and a failure as a triumph. It nevertheless remains quite clear that democracy cannot be built on violation of rights of others, on ruins of churches and cemeteries. Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosvoo and Metohija will continue to support every sincere and constructive effort to improve the present situation for all communities but will strongly oppose to every kind of propaganda which intends to conceal the true situation in this area. The Church will sincerely support democratization of society within the limits of the UNSCR 1244, which grants equality to all citizens, but will never accept a creation of an ethnically clean state tailored according to the interests of Albanian people only.


Albanians provoke Serbs who came to worship in the monastery

AFTER THE HOLY LITURGY ALBANIANS SET ON FIRE THE SERB MONASTERY IN ZOCISTE

Velika Hoca, 21:50 July 14, 2002.

According to the latest information sent by Fr. Peter Ulemek from Orahovac, immediately after the holy liturgy and leaving of the Bishop with the congregation, local Albanians from Zociste village set the fire in the monastery of SS Cosma and Damian. The fire has made additional damage to this already desecrated holy shrine. Fr. Peter was in the last group of Sebs who left the monastery under the KFOR escort. While they were getting ready to leave a group of Albanians began throwing stones at Serbs. Soon afterwards the local Serb priest Fr. Srdjan Milenkovic received infomation that the monastery is burning. Serbs in Velika Hoca immediately organized a fire brigade and rushed with UNMIK police to Zociste to localize the fire.

After today's offensive and vulgar behavior of the Albanian mob in presence of the Bishop, during the Holy Service, this last attack on Zociste Monastery confirmed once again a clear intention of Albanin extremists to eradicate the last Serb monuments in this region. Today's behavior has proved that Prime Minister Rexhepi and Mr. Thaci intentionally deceived Bishop Artemije last month when they promised in front of US and German diplomats that they would create conditions for the reconstruction of the monstery and the return of the expelled Serb population to Zociste. In fact there are many indications which prove that the PDK (so called Democratic Party of Kosovo, led by Mr. Thaci and Rexhepi) was directly involved in the destruction of the monastery as well as this last incident.


A prayer amidst the ruins

MONKS STILL NOT ALLOWED IN ZOCISTE MONASTERY

Gracanica, July 17, 2002

Fr. Peter (Ulemek) in Velika Hoca (nr. Orahovac) has confirmed to the Info-Service ERP KIM that monks are still not allowed to visit Zociste monastery three days after the incident. Since the holy service on July 14th marked the beginning of the reconstruction of Zociste Monastery, Bishop Artemije has already assigned three monks to organize preliminary preparations for the reconstruction. Fr. Peter asked from local KFOR to allow them to visit the monastery after the fire but they failed to grant them permission and escort to the monastery without any reasonable explanation.

Such a position of KFOR has aroused serious concerns in the Church. It is absolutely inacceptable that KFOR blocks free access of monks to the monastery three days after the fire which made additional damage to this holy site. Religious rights are an essential component of human rights and the Church will strongly insist that the Serbian Orthodox clergy can freely visit, perform services and work on reconstruction of the ruined holy sites. According to the UN SCR 1244 the role of KFOR and UNMIK is to secure a safe surrounding for all ethnic and religious groups in Kosovo and Metohija and not to allow the legalization of ethnic cleansing performed by Albanian extremists in the last three years.

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We are enclosing a text published in Politica (Belgrade daily) on July 16th with a statement of Bishop Artemije given to BETA news agency the day before.


Signatre of the criminal UCK/ KLA

POLITIKA - Belgrade daily
July 16, 2002

Monastery ruins set on fire
In Zociste, a village south of Orahovac

Albanians set fire to monastery
After liturgy in Church of Holy Anargyroi

Gracanica, 15 July (Beta)

Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren has confirmed that following yesterday's holy liturgy in the Monastery of Holy Anargyroi in Zociste, a village south of Orahovac, Albanians from that village set fire to and caused additional damage to the remaining buildings of the monastery.

Bishop Artemije said today that the fire was set after the departure of the clergy and laity. The fire was put out following KFOR intervention.

The bishop said that yesterday's move by the Albanians cannot threaten or discourage the beginning of the reconstruction of Orthodox holy sites in Kosovo but only serve to strengthen the resolve of the clergy and the remaining Serbs to build anew.

"This is yet another example where the Albanian extremists have shown their true face after rampaging on the surrounding hills during the entire liturgy in Zociste yesterday in front of practically the whole world. The soldiers from many countries who provided security during liturgy will take with them an accurate picture of the situation in Kosovo and Metohija," said Bishop Artemije.

He described the most recent assessments of international representatives in Pristina, first and foremost, of UNMIK head Michael Steiner, that the security situation in Kosovo is improving with each passing day as propaganda.

"The purpose is to show that the international community nevertheless succeeded in some respect in Kosovo and Metohija to salvage the roles of the UN mission and KFOR. The Serbs in Kosovo are still living under the same conditions as three years ago: in isolation, in fear, without adequate protection, without schools, health care. These remain open wounds and returns and the discovery of the fate of the missing and kidnapped are the most difficult issues," concluded Bishop Artemije.

(translation S. Lazovic)


The holy service was performed under a military guard of KFOR and UN Police

TURKISH KFOR OFFICER ORDERED FR. PETER TO DELETE VIDEO TAPE FROM ZOCISTE

Why Germans and Turks prevent Serb monks to return to their holy site?

Gracanica, July 17, 2002 20.22

Fr. Peter (Ulemek) from Velika Hoca confrimed this evening to the Information Service ERP KIM that he has finally managed to reach the monastery of Zociste. He was escorted by UNMIK policemen and two military policemen, although he had not received an official permission and regular KFOR escort from the local German commander who still refuses to meet the representatives of the Church. In Zociste Fr. Peter could see that the monastery had been placed under protection of Turkish KFOR soldiers. Before the incident the monastery was not under regular protection. As he entered the monastery Fr. Peter used his video camera to capture the latest scenes of damage made by fire three days ago. As soon as he saw this a Turkish officer approached Fr. Peter and told him that he is not allowed to shoot in the monastery "without a permission". He ordered Fr. Peter to delete the video tape immediately.

Such a behavior of KFOR is another example of extreme arrogance which suits more to invaders than peacekeepers. KFOR has no authorities to prevent Serbian Orthodox clergy to visit and film inside their holy sites. Such a gesture cannot be understood otherwise but as an attempt to hide the failure of KFOR which could not prevent Albanian extremists three days ago from burning the Serbian monastery, second time in the last three years.

Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren will insist to excercise its legal right and return the monks to Zociste in order to begin reconstruction. Further behavior of KFOR will only show to the public whether the goal of the KFOR mission in Kosovo and Metohija is to create conditions for return of all expelled population or to help Albanian extremists to create an ethnically clean second Albnian state in the region.


Serbs enter the ruined monastery of Zociste

GERMAN GENERAL SAYS THAT HE WILL NOT GIVE PROTECTION FOR RECONSTRUCTION OF THE MONASTERY

Arrogance and threats instead of protection!

Gracanica, July 17, 2002 22.00

Bishop Artemije has just confirmed to the ERP KIM Info-Service that he received a letter from the commander of the Multinational Brigade South (Brigadier General Wolf-Dieter Skodowski). In his letter the German general informed the Bishop that the MNB (South) will not provide security for the reconstruction of the monastery in Zociste and that the Church will take upon herself responsibility of something happens. Furthermore General Skodowski indirectly threatened the Bishop that he may suspend protection of other Orthodox Christian sites in the area of his responsibility.

This letter of General Skodowski has finally made clear that KFOR is not willing to grant protection for reconstruction of an Orthodox monastery which was destroyed by UCK/KLA extremists in their very presence. The true reason for such a position is that KFOR does not want to risk a conflict with Albanian extremists which have still not been disarmed. Almost twenty Serbian Orthodox churches have been destroyed in the South of Kosovo and Metohija after the deployment of German forces and no perpetrators have been arrested so far. Among destroyed churches are the churches built in the 13th and 14th century.

The position of General Wolf-Dieter Skodowski is considered by the Serbian Orthodox Church as an act of most profound arrogance, cynism and hostility. General is of course free to suspend protection for the Serb population and churches in his area but it is him, not the Bishop, who is going to bear responsibility in front of law and God for any eventual casualty or damage made to Orthodox Christian sites.

Such a behavior of a leading KFOR general shows that stories of alleged readiness of international community to support Serb returns and reconstruction of their homes and holy sites is nothing but cheap PROPAGANDA. Threatening the Bishop that he may suspend protection of other monasteries and churches is a behavior which reminds of methods used during the Second World War and it is very negative for the moral reputation of the KFOR peacekeeping mission.

Serbian Orthodox Church so far has had much more constructive cooperation with the German KFOR and the position of General Skodowski is a regretful exception in comparison to his predecessors.


Holy Service amidst the ruins of a desecrated monastery

KFOR IS NOT IN POSITION TO PROTECT THE MONASTERY OF ZOCISTE AND SECURE ITS REBUILDING
BISHOP ARTEMIJE DECIDED TO WITHDRAW THE MONKS


Gracanica, July 19 , 2002

The commander of the Multinational Brigade South Brigadier General Wolf-Dieter Skodowski and the political advisor to gen. Velentin (COMKFOR) Mr. Maartens de Sitters had a meeting today with Bishop Artemije and hieromonk Sava (Janjic) at Gracanica Monastery. The main topic of discussion were the events at Zociste monastery in the last four days. Despite his sincere willingness to assist all kosovo.netmunities, as he stated, gen. Skodowski informed the Bishop that he is nevertheless not in position to provide protection for the reconstruction of Zociste monastery. He stated that "it is necessary first to change the thinking of the local population". Bishop could not accept such an explanation as valid because in that case, he said, "Serbs would have to wait another 1000 years to rebuilt their homes and churches".

Bishop Artemije expressed his deep indignation with this decision because it is absolutely impossible to understand that a KFOR brigade of 6200 soldiers in its area of responsibility is not capable of providing security for reconstruction of at least one destroyed Orthodox holy site, three years after the war. Prizren area is known as a part of Kosovo and Metohija where only a few Serbs still live and since the end of the war not a single organized return project has been carried out there. Almost 20 Orthodox churches destroyed by Albanians after the war in this part of Province still lie in ruins.

Two months ago the idea of reconstruction of Zociste monastery was supported by the US and German office, as well as Kosovo's PM Rexhepi. Regrettably, after the discussion with the German general today, Bishop Artemije was left no choice but to give up this idea and withdraw to Decani Monastery three monks which were patiently waiting in Velika Hoca to be allowed to live in Zociste. Bishop Artemije expressed serious concern that if such unconstructive KFOR policy were continued Kosovo and Metohija would become completely monoethnic society. Reconstruction of Zociste monastery had to be a first post-war reconstructed Orthodox holy site which would encourage return of Serb IDP's in the area.

The discussion with two high profile KFOR officials has proved the fears of the Diocese that the general security situation in Kosovo and Metohija is so unfavorable that it stands in complete contrast with public statements in which highest KFOR and UNMIK officials so persistently claim that considerable progress has been made. Further reduction of KFOR personnel, without basic elements of security for all citizens, would be a grave mistake which would only encourage extremists and discourage non-Albanian returness.

In fact, the progress which has been achieved so far by the UNMIK/KFOR Mission has only affected Kosovo Albanian population whereas the position of Serbs, their human and religious rights, have not been improved at all and still depend on whims of local Albanians and mercy of international authorities. After these Zociste events It is quite evident that it is not Serbs who do not want to go to their homes and holy sites, but Kosovo Albanians who prevent this process and international mission which is incapable of creating necessary security conditions envisaged by the UNSCR 1244 (#10.k)

In conclusion, Zociste events have demonstrated clearly that true winners in such a situation are only Kosovo Albanian extremists, which seriously puts KFOR and UNMIK credibility at stake.

MONASTERY LEFT WITHOUT ANY VISIBLE KFOR PROTECTION

Later in the afternoon an information came from Velika Hoca that Turkish soldiers which provided security in Zociste monastery in the last few days had already withdrawn and that the monastery was left without any visible guard. Local Serbs interpret this move as a consequence of pressures by Albanian extremists and a way for KFOR to avoid a conflict with them.

Three stages of desecration
monastic cemetery in Zociste monastery

Zociste Monastery
The monastery before destruction - the tombs of Fr. Moses and Fr. Damian, 1997


Desecrated tombs after the destruction of the monastery, summer 1999


Desecrated tombs in 2002

Report by KESTON Institute, Oxford UK

KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK
______________________________________

KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 19 July 2002

Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist and post-communist lands.

KOSOVO: ARSON ATTACK FOLLOWS MONASTERY LITURGY.

Soon after Serbian Orthodox priests and monks left a ruined monastery in south western Kosovo where they had conducted the liturgy, two surviving monastery buildings were set on fire by unknown attackers. The 14 July liturgy was also disrupted by abuse from local people. It was the first service held at the site of the demolished church in the monastery at Zociste (Zozishte in Albanian) in the three years since Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo and the monastery was largely destroyed. As part of an international plan to support the return of expelled Serbs to the area, the site is due for reconstruction. The local Serbian Orthodox bishop has complained, however, about a letter he has received from the peacekeeping force KFOR saying security for the reconstruction of the monastery cannot be guaranteed. A leading Orthodox monk in Kosovo claimed to Keston News Service that the fire in the monastery is “a clear message from the local population”.

KOSOVO: ARSON ATTACK FOLLOWS MONASTERY LITURGY

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

Soon after Serbian Orthodox priests and monks left a ruined monastery in south western Kosovo where they had conducted the liturgy, two surviving monastery buildings were set on fire by unknown attackers. The 14 July liturgy at the site of the demolished Church of the Holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian in the monastery at Zociste (Zozishte in Albanian), 5 kilometres (3 miles) south of Orahovac (Rahovec), had been the first held there in the three years since Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo and the monastery was largely destroyed. In mid-May, the site was visited by senior Kosovo officials and international representatives (see KNS 31 May 2002), and was assigned for reconstruction as part of a wider internationally-supported plan to create conditions for the return of expelled Serbs to the area. "Starting a fire in the monastery was a clear message from the local population," claimed Fr Sava (Janjic), a leading Serbian Orthodox monk in Kosovo, in a statement to Keston News Service on 15 July.

The service at Zociste - attended by some 200 local Serbs brought in under escort from the NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR - was held after Bishop Artemije (Radosavljevic) informed KFOR's Multinational Brigade South that a liturgy would be held at the monastery, a statement from the Serbian Orthodox Raska and Prizren Diocese reported. The service was part of a wider project of visitation and consecration of damaged churches and monasteries in Kosovo during the summer months by monks and priests of the diocese. This project was drawn up after the Kosovo parliament adopted a resolution on freedom of movement for all citizens.

One fire was started under a summer house and another at the place where the refectory used to stand. A KFOR patrol spotted it and informed Fr Peter Ulemek, the parish priest in Velika Hoca (Hoce e Madhe). Local Serbs then organised a fire brigade and went to tackle the fire under the protection of United Nations (UNMIK) police. It is reported that the damage is not great, since the buildings were already heavily damaged in 1999 when monks fled the monastery. Since the incident Turkish KFOR troops have been protecting the site.

Bishop Artemije had already complained of the abusive behaviour of local Albanians while the liturgy was underway. It proceeded against a background of cursing and shouting, with various items being thrown at the priests. Fr Ulemek was hit on the head by a stone, and another person was slightly injured. "The Albanian extremists have shown their true face after rampaging on the surrounding hills during the entire liturgy," Bishop Artemije told the Belgrade-based paper Danas on 16 July, "in front of the world."

The disruption to the liturgy and the subsequent arson attack were condemned as "very disturbing" by Susan Manuel, spokeswoman for UNMIK. "We understand the situation was confusing, but what remains a fact is that fires were set there, following the visit of the Serb clergy, at a sacred site, in an area where strenuous efforts have been made to begin some kind of tolerance," she declared on 16 July. She noted that local Albanians were reported to have thrown stones and shoes at the priests during the service. She said it was "extremely disheartening" that "some people persist in exploiting fears that remain within the population and fuelling hatred".

The diocese reported on 17 July that when Fr Ulemek managed to return to the monastery earlier that day escorted by UNMIK policemen and two military policemen but without a KFOR escort, he began to film the fire damage. "As soon as he saw this a Turkish [KFOR] officer approached Fr Peter and told him that he is not allowed to shoot in the monastery 'without permission'. He ordered Fr Peter to delete the video tape immediately."

Although attempts are underway to improve security and the freedom of movement in Kosovo, including more conciliatory recent statements from senior Albanian officials, church officials say this approach has not been repeated at a local level. "The local Albanian population and their leadership use every opportunity to make very clear that Serbs are not wanted back in Kosovo and Metohija", a diocesan statement claimed.

The monastery of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Zociste was founded in the 14th century, but was closed for many centuries. A brotherhood of seven monks lived there until the NATO intervention in 1999. After KFOR troops were deployed in Kosovo, the monastery was looted, desecrated and torched, and the old church building was levelled to the ground.

Bishop Artemije complained on 17 July that he had just received a letter from the German commander of the Multinational Brigade South, Brigadier General Wolf-Dieter Skodowski, informing him that KFOR would not provide security for the reconstruction of the Zociste monastery and that the Church would have to take upon itself responsibility "if something happens". "Furthermore General Skodowski indirectly threatened the Bishop that he may suspend protection of other Orthodox Christian sites in the area of his responsibility," the bishop declared. "This letter of General Skodowski has finally made clear that KFOR is not willing to grant protection for reconstruction of an Orthodox monastery which was destroyed by UCK/KLA extremists in their very presence. The true reason for such a position is that KFOR does not want to risk a conflict with Albanian extremists who have still not been disarmed." Bishop Artemije pointed out that almost twenty Serbian Orthodox churches have been destroyed in southern Kosovo since the deployment of German forces and no perpetrators have been arrested so far. (END)

Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.