Thursday, January 5, 2006
Serb church leader calls for consensus on Kosovo
BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro-The leader of Serbia's Orthodox Church,
Patriarch Pavle, warned on Thursday that upcoming negotiations on the
troubled Kosovo province must reach a solution acceptable to Serbs.
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle recently released from the military
hospital after injuring his hip
The patriarch, who will not participate directly in the U.N.-mediated
talks but is expected to have strong influence with the Serbian
negotiators, spoke in his traditional encyclical before Orthodox
Christmas. Most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas by the Julian
calendar on Jan. 7.
"No one has the right to unilaterally change the status of our
southern region, without the consensus of all the peoples who live in
Serbia, including the Serbian people," the patriarch said referring
to fears that Western powers would pressure Serbia into giving up its
Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999 when NATO bombing
halted the Serb crackdown on Kosovo's independence-seeking and mostly
Muslim ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, but talks to determine
whether it becomes independent or retains some degree of autonomy are
expected this year.
For the church, at stake are also scores of ancient monasteries, some
of which were destroyed during and after the 1998-1999 conflict.
The leader of more than 7 million Orthodox Christian Serbs called for
"peace, freedom, equal opportunities, and equal rights for all" in
Kosovo, as well as "preservation of Serbian Orthodox sanctuaries, the
uninhibited return of refugees, the absolute respect for European
values and international law."
While the ethnic Albanians demand full independence, Serbian
officials have said they would agree to a broad autonomy for Kosovo
but not its complete secession.
The Belgrade negotiating team, which includes the president, prime
minister and other top officials, agreed Thursday on a platform for
future talks, but revealed no details from the document.
In a statement, the Serbian leaders said they will insist on
Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo and "substantial" autonomy for the
region, as well as creation of a Serb entity in the province, demands
that already have been rejected by Kosovo's ethnic Albanians.
The Serbian team also said it would demand protection of the churches
and monasteries and the Serb-owned property in Kosovo.
The government in Belgrade is particularly concerned about 100,000
Serbs still living in Kosovo despite occasional attacks by Kosovo
The patriarch urged politicians to find a solution by which "all will
gain and no one will suffer loss."
Later Thursday, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said he hoped to
achieve "best solution for Kosovo within Serbia-Montenegro."
"I believe the only truly realistic and lasting solution for the
future of Kosovo is the one based on international law, justice and
widely accepted principles," Kostunica said in his own Christmas
January 05, 2006 11:35 AM